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 Irrigators: secure your base

Tam Moore Oregon Staff Writer for Capital Press 10/14/05

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Irrigators have a challenge across the West in the next 100 years, said U.S. Commissioner of Reclamation John Keys in a speech celebrating the 100th anniversary of the start of construction for the Klamath Reclamation Project.

It’s to develop leadership and vision for the next century, and “to do what it takes to secure your base, which is the water and agriculture that made the West” economically strong.

“The challenge,” Keys said, “is to find ways to conserve water and at the same time protect your base of water and agriculture.”

He told the Klamath Water Users Association and top Western officials of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that while the Klamath Basin has its tasks as a result of conflict, they are nothing compared with urban pressures that result in buying out farms to secure their water rights for domestic and industrial use.

Keys ticked off the mounting demand for water from Las Vegas, Denver and Phoenix as high-profile examples. He said one Salt River project manager in Arizona predicted during that project’s centennial that by 2025 there won’t be a viable farmer left in the service area.

Think of the foresight of people who designed the Western projects in use today, said Keys, and wonder how they did it.

“Take the Colorado River, for example, the mean annual flow is about 15 million acre feet. They built storage of 60 million acre feet, that’s four-to-one,” said Keys.

“Had that system not been there, in the past six years of drought – some say the driest in 500 years – had they not had the system then 25 million people would have been seriously short of water.”

The Colorado, where Nevada, under pressure from Las Vegas, is seeking to reopen the Colorado River Compact, is one of dozens of challenges facing Keys.

He said he’s up to the job, intends to continue serving and believes there are countless opportunities for water users in leaders within the Bush administration. Keys was a career BuRec engineer before taking the political appointment as reclamation commissioner in July, 2001 at the height of the divisive Klamath water cutoff.

He said the cooperation shown since with American Indian tribes, and biologists reviewing ways to share the resource, give promise for the future.

“I really believe that. I hope I’m around to see part of the next 100 years.”

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His email address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.



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