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Award recognizes irrigators' efforts

Published June 20, 2004

Recently, the Klamath Water Users Association got an award for not using water, which is not a contradiction in terms at all. It's a matter of doing what has to be done to keep farming and ranching alive in the Klamath Basin.

The award was from the state of Oregon and recognized the water users' efforts in behalf of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. It was presented to the group in a ceremony on the steps of the Capitol, with leaders such as Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Legislature participating.

The award recognizes a welter of actions in the Basin, some using federal and state dollars and some not, many aimed at making agricultural operations more efficient water users. Some have given agriculture interests heartache, such as the conversion of farmlands to wetlands - the water users cite 24,000 acres in the past decade, equal to more than a tenth of the Klamath Reclamation Project.

Nevertheless, it's clear that farmers and ranchers have recognized their predicament given the pressure of the Endangered Species Act and competition for water from Indian tribes upstream and down. Agriculture is in the midst of a struggle that could take decades yet to play out, and its defenders are determined that they will survive.

This is a longer-term version of the creativity they showed in 2001, when, faced with imminent ruin, they responded with skill and imagination in a political protest that brought national attention and saved Basin agriculture to fight another day.

The vision of the Klamath Basin as a place for human habitation must include agriculture, and an agricultural sector of sufficient size to be economically viable. This place ought to have an urban center and a scattering of pleasant small towns - and in between green fields with dancing water from irrigation works.

Whatever alternate vision exists involves blowing away towns such as Merrill, Malin and Tulelake and shriveling the city of Klamath Falls. It involves throwing lots of people off the land, and it's not acceptable.

This is not the first such award, and won't be the last. It is a signal of a widening recognition in Oregon and the nation that farmers and ranchers will do good things here to make sure that they can continue in their necessary and honorable work.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board.

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