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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Fish over farms — again? We have get back to the table


Water is a commodity just like gold, silver, oil and gas. Historically, water has allowed our farmers, ranchers and fisherman to literally feed the world. I know how valuable water is to the health of any community. Control the life-giving water and you have complete control over any community’s future.

Therefore, I was frustrated and disappointed when I received notice from the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) of the tribes' priority call on water.

Our water, the gift which allows our hard-working farmers and ranchers to create jobs, feed communities and carry on legacies of family-run agriculture, has become an invaluable tool in an ideological war. This war pits the Tribes, environmental groups and government agencies against small farms and ranching families, and is, in my view, an attempt to acquire complete control of water and land usage.

On April 13, the Klamath Tribes, who have senior instream rights, notified OWRD of a call on the Wood, Sprague and Williamson Rivers and tributaries, including Upper Klamath Marsh. According to the Amended Order of 2007, the Tribes are within their rights to call for water for hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering on the former reservation land to the Klamath Tribes.

However, this is, both, a legal and good-faith agreement regarding water as a shared resource. While the Tribes have an adjudicated right to it, Klamath Basin landowners also have rights and vested interests in the water, and its ecological impacts. The Tribes and individual water right holders must work together to make positive change.

Riparian areas are thriving and current flows are off the charts, making any talk of drought or shortage simply ridiculous. There is more than enough water to go around this year and accomplish the important goals of each stake-holder.

One of the causes of this “water argument” is that the language used for describing water purposes is vague and subjective.

Recall that on Feb. 12, 2007, the Administrative Law Judge, issued an Amended Order on Motions for Rulings on Legal Issues and confirmed, that the Tribes possessed treaty rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather on former reservation lands. Accordingly, as a matter of law, the Tribes possessed federally reserved water rights to “whatever water is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the reservation.”

This “whatever” phrase allows for a constant and continual re-engineering of control over water resources, which is dangerous territory for the future of agriculture in the Klamath Basin. If the tribes call water during one of the highest water years on record, one can safely wonder if their goal is fishing, hunting or other heritage practices?

The Herald and News carried this report concerning the water call:

“There are two types of base flows, geologic and biologic,” said Diana Enright, an OWRD spokesperson. “In this case, these are biologic base flows, which are estimated as a lower protective threshold that provide biologically necessary habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms.”

You might think, well, that’s the science so the conversation is over. But what is not obvious is this data has been organized in a specific way, with a specific ideology in mind. Science is the work of questioning, not forgone conclusions. We must ask good questions when it comes to water priorities, flow, quality, needs and conditions.

The information being disseminated to the public regarding the water flows in the Klamath Basin has been influenced by the prevailing environmental world-views of the data collectors and presenters.

Interest groups realize that government power can be used to cajole the public into believing the “experts know best.” Look at how the war against CO2 is progressing, complete with threats of legislation for dairy cow flatulence. These semi-scientific springboards are the perfect means for capturing adherents through fear-mongering. Corralling the experts, funding their efforts, organizing their evidence and setting the agenda is the easiest pathway to monopolistic control.

These “calls” on water, in such an abundant year, are a concerted effort to force an artificial political/administrative constraint on the Klamath Basin.

Each can be mitigated, changed or modified by parties who sincerely desire to live and work together, in community with each other.

It’s time to get back to the table and really talk to one another. While some ideologues may honestly believe that their worldview requires the death of an entire industry in Klamath County, I hope that is not the majority. I think that most of us sincerely want to see human flourishing with a healthy environment for our children and grandchildren. We want to know where our food comes from, share our water and celebrate our heritage, together, as a complete community.

Dennis Linthicum is the state senator from Oregon District 28, which includes Klamath County and parts of other counties. He also served as Klamath County commissioner.



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