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March 15, 2005

F o r I m m e d i a t e R e l e a s e

For More Information, Please Contact:

PAT O’TOOLE, PRESIDENT, (307) 380-8065, h2otoole@hotmail.com

DAN KEPPEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, (541) 892-6244, kep@cvcwireless.net

Copy by: RANDY McFARLAND, (559) 896-4715, jrandallmcfarland@sbcglobal.net

Family Farm Alliance, New Leadership Will Examine Storage Needs, Irrigated Ag’s Future

new Family Farm Alliance focus will be directed at Western water storage opportunities and a need for the nation to examine the nation’s desire to support and sustain irrigated agriculture in the years to come. Leading the effort for the West-wide organization of family farmers and local water agencies will be a new President and Executive Director.

Patrick O’Toole, whose family operates a cattle, sheep and feed ranch in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado, was elected as the Family Farm Alliance’s fifth President during the organization’s Annual Meeting and Conference March 9-11 in Las Vegas. O’Toole succeeds Bill Kennedy of Klamath Falls, Oregon, as Alliance President.

Most Alliance members are involved with using or delivering federal water supplies from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 17 Western states. The Alliance is a grassroots-based organization that puts Congressional and Administration staff members into direct contact with water users and local water agencies.

"We believe strongly in the "family" part of the Family Farm Alliance," said O’Toole, a former member of Wyoming’s House of Representatives and the federal government’s Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission. "It has so much to do with rural communities and is such an important part of American culture."

Named as Executive Director was Dan Keppen. Keppen recently stepped down after three years of managing and serving as spokesman for the Klamath Water Users Association and embattled farm families around Klamath Falls, Oregon, where Keppen lives and where the Family Farm Alliance’s offices will soon be relocated. He has 16 years of experience in association management and water issues and also served as a special U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Assistant in the Mid-Pacific Region. Keppen succeeds Craig Smith. Smith is stepping down to pursue an expanded role with the Northwest Food Processors Association and a ministry in his Salem, Oregon, church.

"This Alliance is one of the most respected organizations representing Western water," Keppen said. "It is really one of the privileges of my life to be able to work with farmers throughout the West."

— M O R E —

The Family Farm Alliance, as a grassroots-based organization, plans to focus on a few issues that are of critical importance to the West’s irrigated agriculture. They include:

  • Water Storage. "Storage issues are huge," Keppen said. The Alliance for the past year has undertaken an extensive survey of new water supply projects, some large but most rather modest, that could be of enormous benefit in helping meet the West’s future agricultural and urban water needs in the face of anticipated rapid population growth. "We have some ideas and options," Keppen said. "The work that has been done on storage by the Alliance is pivotal," said Alliance President O’Toole. Sounding a theme voiced by a speaker during the Annual Meeting, he added that the West faces a situation in which "it will be new water or agricultural water" used to supply urban growth or environmental restoration. Keppen added, "By default, agriculture is becoming the supply for other uses."
  • The Future of Agriculture. "We are facing a reality check," O’Toole said of critical conditions he said are facing irrigated agriculture throughout the West. He said the strength of American agriculture is not in its production. "It is in its redundancy," O’Toole said. "Now, because of pressures on irrigated agriculture’s water supplies, that redundancy is threatened." There is a need for the nation to consider the need for irrigated agriculture, he added, announcing that by 2006 the Alliance expects to conduct and complete an important survey of agricultural lands that are being taken out of production because of urbanization or removal of the land’s water supply. "My canary in the mine story is that for the first time, our nation’s balance of trade is negative," O’Toole said. "We are going to be the voice in Washington and to the public that agriculture is critical."
  • Use of Federal Resources. Keppen said there is a need to advocate for more efficient and wise use of scarce resources. The Alliance plans to compile experiences from around the West – both good and bad – to create a template that can be used constructively by the Bureau of Reclamation and other Interior Department agencies in dealing with the issues.
  • Title Transfers. Keppen said the Alliance will continue its efforts to assist in the transfer of titles of federal water projects whenever possible to local agencies and users.

Immediate Past President Kennedy said the Alliance also hopes to step up two of its most important programs – Farmer Lobbyist visits to the nation’s capital by federal water users, and Congressional Outreach. The latter program brings Washington-based Congressional and administration staff members to the West to see farm and irrigation operations first hand.

Keppen said the Alliance is among the organizations asked by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to submit responses to six questions the committee plans to address during an April 5 water conference in Washington. "We are hoping we are selected to sit on that panel," Keppen said.

In its paper, the Alliance said, "The themes expressed in our responses generally reflect our belief that streamlined federal regulation and decision making are the keys to sound Western water policy. Whenever possible, meaningful delegation of decision-making authority should be transferred to the local level with less federal intrusion in basin issues." What is needed, the Alliance said, is certainty to all water users, balanced solutions to resolve differences between water laws and environmental laws, deference to state law on water issues, support for development of new and environmentally sound water supply sources, and cost effective operation and maintenance of existing water supply infrastructure.

For more on the Senate Committee filing and about the Alliance, please visit www.familyfarmalliance.org





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