Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Former OR Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse
information posted to KBC on 6/25/05
HIGH PRICE FOR KLAMATH IRRIGATION
An op-ed in the Seattle Times 7/12 by former Oregon congresswoman Elizabeth Furse points out that the federal government's "foolish and ill-conceived policy of replumbing the entire Klamath River system" to turn the arid basin into irrigated farmland, has come at quite a high price. Besides the basin's native fish and wetlands that supported "one of the mightiest concentrations of migratory birds on the planet," the "third-greatest" salmon and steelhead fishery in the U.S. was lost, costing an "estimated 3,700 fishing-dependent jobs." The taxpayer subsidized government irrigation program was "even more devastating for the region's numerous Indian tribes" whose treaty rights to have their fishing rights "protected for all time" were trampled, destroying the "backbone of their economy, culture and religion."
Furse, Chadwick speaker on 'tribal trust'.
"Former Congresswoman Furse Comments on Klamath
This piece by former congresswoman Elizabeth Furse sheds a lot of light on the Klamath Basin issue. It was published in the Seattle Times recently. ---------- Editorials & Opinion : Thursday, July 12, 2001
Guest columnist Government made right call on Klamath Basin irrigation
By Elizabeth Furse Special to The Times
A congressional hearing in Oregon last month provided a glimpse of how a handful of politicians intend to exploit a severe drought in the Klamath Basin to further their long-standing goal of repealing the Endangered Species Act. The American people, however, overwhelmingly support the act and efforts to protect the nation's imperiled fish and wildlife. Some farmers in the Klamath Basin, an area that straddles the California-Oregon border, will not be able to use the amount of water they typically receive from the government. There is a reason for that; there is too little water. The region is a high, dry desert to begin with, and 2001 is the driest year in the basin since record keeping began.
This spring the government decided that federally subsidized irrigation would have to be substantially reduced to avoid the extinction of several species of fish, including wild Klamath River coho salmon. That decision, although difficult and controversial, was absolutely correct.
In 1909, the federal government began a foolish and ill-conceived policy of replumbing the entire Klamath River system with the intention of turning this high desert plateau into farmland. The area was opened to homesteaders who received access to an irrigation system paid for by the taxpayers. As populations grew, the government diverted more of the river, drained more wetlands, and promised more water than the river could deliver.
Naturally, the ecosystem in the Klamath Basin could not handle these intrusions. As irrigation increased, the basin's lakes shrank and grew warm, and the rivers dried up. The native fish species that once thrived in them began to disappear. Much of the basin's wetlands, once the staging ground for one of the mightiest concentrations of migratory birds on the planet, was converted to farms and, as a result, bird numbers plummeted.
The government irrigation program may have been a great boon for the farmers living in the basin, but many other people have suffered immeasurably from this largesse. The Klamath River was once the third-greatest producer of salmon and steelhead in the United States, and supported a fishery that provided thousands of family-wage jobs. As irrigation drained much of the water out of the Klamath River in recent years, the fishing economy collapsed. An estimated 3,700 fishing-dependent jobs have been lost in nearby coastal communities alone. Today, a visitor to once-thriving towns along the coast will see few fish but plenty of ?for sale? signs on fishing boats.
The government's irrigation program was even more devastating for the region's numerous Indian tribes. The Klamath Indians, for example, forced from their ancestral homelands, received solemn guarantees in a treaty with the government that their fishing rights would be protected for all time. The fish that once thrived in the region formed the backbone of the tribe's economy, culture and religion.
The government ignored this promise when it replumbed the basin for irrigation, sending the river and lakes into an ecological tailspin and completely destroying the fisheries. Today, lake fish on which the tribe relies are hanging on the very precipice of extinction. So, too, are the once-abundant salmon in the Klamath River on which many different tribes rely.
While the government's experiment with desert agriculture in the Klamath Basin has exacted immense costs, the benefits have been marginal at best. Farming represents only 6 percent of total employment in Klamath County and income from farming and agricultural services provides just 1 percent of the county's total personal income.
Moreover, agriculture receives taxpayer subsidies at every stage of the process, from federal price supports for crops to heavily subsidized irrigation water. Even so, agriculture in the basin has struggled: Last year, part of the Klamath Basin potato crop was plowed back into the ground because there was no market for it.
The Endangered Species Act didn't create the problem in the Klamath Basin. Rather, it is a warning, a ?miner's canary,? indicating that we have created an unsustainable ecological Frankenstein: The basin is on the edge of collapse.
Politicians and others who have long disliked the ESA see this tragedy as an opportunity to attack the act. They are cynically using the farmers' plight as a tool for their own purposes. But ?fixing? the basin's irrigation crisis by amending the ESA is like trying to put out a five-alarm fire by pulling the batteries out of the fire alarm.
We must say no to this ?quick fix? and work together to find a balanced, long-term solution to the water fight in the Klamath Basin, one that protects all of the people involved, farmers, fishermen and Indian tribes alike.
Elizabeth Furse is a former congresswoman from Oregon's 1st District (1993-1999). She is currently on the staff of the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University, Portland.
Wu supports President Clinton's plan to use the budget surplus to shore up Social Security. He also would be an abortion-rights supporter in Congress, as was his predecessor, retiring Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Furse. Wu would not vote to give the president so-called "fast track" trade negotiating authority. Neither would he support open trade with China until the country improves its human rights record.
Speakers came from a variety of nationalities and included former Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, Mazen Malik of the Palestinian Arab-American Association, Aliyah Strauss, president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom of Israel and 10-year-old student Josh Olmsted. He drew the biggest ovation of the day when he demanded that tax dollars be spent on schools like his and not on going to war with Iraq.
Elizabeth Furse led off the post-march rally by asking, "Could it be that this war talk distracts the American people from the real security issues that truly affect them and their families and which are in such present jeopardy: the economy, job security, education, environmental protection?"
Speaking at 2004 wilderness conference
Elizabeth Furse is a former Congress member from Oregon's first district (1993-99). With her husband, John, she owns Helvetia Vineyards. Representative Furse was born in Nairobi, Kenya. She grew up in apartheid S. Africa. She received a B.A. from Evergreen State College, in 1974 and moved to Oregon in 1978.
She served as Director of Oregon Legal Services restoration program for Native American tribes, 1980-1986. The Oregon Peace Institute (OPI), a nonprofit organization founded by Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse and Dr. Robert Gould. She served as Executive Director, Oregon Peace Institute, 1985-91.
In her three terms in the House of Representatives, she was a leading voice for the environment of the Pacific Northwest in the halls of Congress. Elizabeth was the original House sponsor of a bill to repeal the salvage timber rider.
After retiring from Congress, she has served as the director of the Institute for Tribal Government at the Hatfield School of Government and director of Columbia River Conversations at the School of Liberal Arts and Science, both at Portland State University. She was the founder and director of the Oregon Peace Institute from 1986 to 1991 and was director of the Restoration Program and the Native American Program for Oregon Legal Services. She is currently a member of the boards of Oregon Health and Science University, One Economy, the Enterprise Foundation, Earth Justice and Discovery Channel Foundation.
American Diabetes Association - Public Policy Leadership Award 1996
National Conservation Achievement Award in 1997
The Wayward West by Heather Abel
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