Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Klamath River Basin Compact is 'The Law of the River'
March 28, 2005
By James R. Ottoman Guest columnist
Many of the hydroelectric contracts in the West are set to expire over the next few years. The resolution of the negotiated new contracts will have a wide-ranging effect on all of us who live in the West.
The recently settled water dispute on the Colorado River showed the legitimacy of the Colorado River Compact, which, at times, has been called "The Law of the River." California was forced to give up its use of millions of acre-feet of Arizona's water when the state of Arizona established a need for it.
While the Colorado Compact encompasses the entire river, from Wyoming to Mexico, the Klamath River Basin Compact was written to include only the waters in the Upper Klamath River Basin. The writers of the Klamath Compact realized the importance of protecting the waters of the Upper Basin permanently after 90 percent of the Trinity River was diverted to the Sacramento River upon completion of the Shasta Dam in 1945.
The vision of men like James Kerns, Nelson Reed, George Stevenson, James Sterns, Harvey Banks and others produced the Klamath Compact, a document that included protection for water quality as well as protection for irrigation use, Indian rights of the upper Klamath Tribes, wildlife, economical power rates and proper drainage.
Improper drainage has been the downfall of many irrigation systems around the world.
The relative flatness of the Basin's topography requires that irrigation drainage waters be pumped back to the river system.
The foresight of founders of the Klamath Compact has allowed this document to be a blueprint for all users. Flood irrigation was replaced with water-efficient sprinkler irrigation. Groundwater has been developed. The management of state and federal wildlife refuges has been enhanced.
The present success of all of these practices is because of proper management and the pumping of groundwater back to the river system. This pumping is feasible because the authors of the compact had the foresight to add an important clause that established that electric rates be set at "the lowest rates which may be reasonable."
It was the intention of the compact that all the water in the Upper River Basin was to be kept and used in the basin, except for a small amount of water that for political reasons was sent through a complex delivery system to the Rogue River Basin.
This single diversion went unchallenged until the drought conditions of the last 15 years made even this small amount of water important. But in this single instance the legal power of the compact kept water flowing into "Easy Valley."
The last article of the compact provides wording for termination of the compact. The legislatures of Oregon and California are required to reach a termination agreement, but according to the compact even termination by the two affected states can not invalidate the rights established by the original document.
During the recent drought years all state and federal agencies ignored the legal standing of the Klamath River Compact. It is my opinion that the purposes and provisions in this wonderful and workable document should be resurrected and that it should once again be considered, "The Law of The River."
James Ottoman is a direct descendent of Ottoman and Rajnus Czech Families who settled Malin in 1909. He has served on many local, state and national water organizations. His family was named National Farm Family of the Year in 1975.
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