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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Klamath Basin Ecosystem Foundation



March 7, 2007

Hello there,

I have to say one thing right off the bat. In our last Dispatch we mentioned that the dry year was starting to worry us, and we asked people to pray for precipitation. Two days after that the sky clouded up, and we haven’t seen the sun for more than an hour or two since, up until a couple days ago. I mean, day after day, week after week it snowed and snowed and rained and rained and then snowed some more. There were kids snowboarding down the street we live on, and we’ve had the longest icicles I have ever seen. Roofs leaked, basements flooded, trips were canceled, and creeks and streams came up over their banks.

I just wanted to point that out.

Last time we gave you a short history of the watershed assessment projects we’ve been doing, and we left you at the point where the Upper Sprague and Sycan River Assessment wasn’t going so well. We had released the first complete draft, and there was considerable consternation from lots of different directions. We had a facilitated public meeting at the Fire Hall in Bly, and the room was filled to capacity. We started at 5:00pm, and didn’t get home until well after midnight. And I’m telling you, we got an earful.

Now, when we first started with the overall assessment project, there were many who thought we should start in the Sprague because it was ground zero of most of the Klamath Basin’s contentious habitat, land use and water use issues. There were many others who felt we were nuts to try to do an assessment there at all -- for exactly the same reason that the others thought we should start there. I don’t know which will turn out to be right in the long run, but I can tell you that about halfway through the meeting that night in Bly, I was in agreement with the people who thought we were nuts.

Most of the comments had a consistent undercurrent of resentment toward a document that seemed to criticize the very community it was supposed to serve. Many complained of an accusatory tone directed at timber, grazing, and other natural resource-based enterprise. More importantly, people expressed the view that the allegations against resource users were based on scientific interpretations that were questionable or sometimes just plain wrong, which called into question what folks referred to as the “scientific integrity” of the document. Most important of all, it was pointed out that if all of the above was true, the assessment was ultimately not useful as a guide for action in the watershed, because the people managing the resources did not feel its conclusions were valid.

On a personal note, as a person who fought on behalf of Basin agricultural communities before, during and after the 2001 shutoff, it was pretty hard to be in a position where I was responsible for a document that was seen as a threat to those communities. On the other hand, I remained convinced that the best way to keep agricultural operations viable from a regulatory standpoint is to empower landowners to address whatever the critical issues are. And I remained convinced that these watershed assessments were our best shot at getting that done.

But it was crystal clear after the Bly meeting that, if this was going to happen, we had a whole lot of work to do. We left that meeting with a rather enormous pile of specific comments from the participants. We had also committed to two additional rounds of comment and revision, and we had committed to forming a new “Assessment Team” made up of a diversity of stakeholders. Finally, we committed to a series of interviews with local land owners and resource managers, in an effort to include perspectives and knowledge that have not been captured by published studies and datasets.

This is where we need to get one thing very clear. It is by far the most critical lesson that I have taken out of this experience, and I think it’s the most important message that anyone taking on a community-based assessment needs to hear. There is no entity that can do a community-based watershed assessment right, except the community itself -- no organization, no agency, no individual, no funder, no scientist.

I mention this now because it was the community that stepped up and did what needed to be done to make the assessment accurate and useful. They volunteered for the Assessment Team. They spent hours reviewing documents and maps. They spent hours being interviewed about their operations, their families, and their histories. They took our calls and responded to our emails. Stakeholders set aside their differences and worked together to get the language and the numbers right. And they are still doing all these things to this day, with the expectation that the end product will help us all be more secure in our futures on the land.

I have to say it is deeply inspiring to me. It is s difficult thing to see how the conflict of 2001 has sent aftershocks of uncertainty rippling through our communities, up to this very day. This uncertainty affects everyone, and any chance we have to get rid of some little bit of that uncertainty is a chance we must have the courage to take.

At the beginning of the Upper Sprague Assessment we talked a lot about how important “community involvement” is. We held issue identification meetings, we had field days, we set up mailing lists, and we talked to lots of people from all different walks of life. And you know what? It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t near enough. In fact I’m not sure there’s any such thing as “enough” when it comes to making sure that the assessment process is “owned” by the community it is meant to serve. If there is one piece of advice I would give to people wondering how to do outreach for projects like these, it would be this: Do more.

And for Pete’s sake, don’t think of “outreach” as something that “educates” the folks you are trying to work with. Because it’s you that needs the education, and instead of just talking to people in the community you need to shut up and listen to them before you do anything else. You do this, and you may just have a shot a doing a good assessment. If you don’t, then you might as well not even bother.

Very sincerely,

Mike Connelly


We must move from asking God to take care of the things that are breaking our hearts, to praying about the things that are breaking His heart. “

                                                                        - -  Margaret Gibb

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