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Green and white: We'll take all we can

(This was written by a Herald and News editor.  This article in no way reflects the opinions of KBC or anyone besides this H&N editor).

Published Feb. 1, 2004

While the white stuff is piling up in the Cascades to the west, the green stuff is piling up back East in D.C. The phenomena point to a good year hereabouts.

As to the snow, it's too early to dance and sing. The weather pattern could change, the temperatures could rise, and the snow could run off. But as long as it's snowing, that's good. We'll take all the moisture we can get, when we can get it.

As to the money, the Bush administration promises plenty of it. In an election year and given the Klamath Basin's symbolic importance in the West, there's not likely to be much objection from the Congress. We'll take all the money we can get, when we can get it. But we'll take it mindful that Washington's generosity, and ability to absorb debt, do have limits.

Much of the new spending is on scientific and technical projects needed to establish a firm basis for managing the Klamath rivershed. As the events of the past three years have proved, the state of our knowledge about the workings of the Basin is meager compared with the claims put upon it.

The budget Interior Secretary Gale Norton proposes also sets into motion the removal of the Chiloquin Dam on the Sprague River. Assuming that the irrigators who use the dam's diversions can be supplied with pumps and assuming the dam can be taken out without a surge of sediment, this is as close to a no-brainer as we get in the Basin.

Removing the dam should open up miles of habitat for suckers, increasing their numbers and their chances for survival, with little or no adverse consequences to anybody or any ecosystem.

The administration would also set aside $4.6 million for the Barnes Ranch deal, which is more problematic.

It's not clear yet that the money would be enough to buy the ranch at the top of Agency Lake, which then could be managed as storage in conjunction with a Bureau of Reclamation site next door. There's a report the government is in negotiations to lease the land.

Any deal is complicated by friction and mistrust on the part of irrigators directed at the American Land Conservancy and its local representative, Rich McIntyre, who have an option on the property of unspecified length. There are questions about how much storage, under what circumstances, the ranch could provide. Neighbors have reasonable concerns that their property might suffer.

So, the Barnes Ranch isn't a no-brainer, but if enough brains are applied to the deal in the right way, it could be worthwhile. Whatever storage the Barnes Ranch provides should be subtracted from the water bank the Bureau of Reclamation administers. Oregon's congressional delegation should be sure that the appropriations bill is clear on this point.

The bank's assets are to rise 50 percent this year, to 75,000 acre-feet, and eventually to 100,000 acre-feet.

Concerns about the water bank point out that we in the Basin need to make sure that the money coming our way from D.C. leads to something permanent. Annual appropriations for a big water bank are inherently unstable, for example. Changes in administration or the Congress could change the climate for a settlement, which currently is favorable. The so-called secret talks at the Shilo Inn, or something that flows from them, are a promising step in that direction.

All of us in the Basin should make sure that, even if we have a pretty good year for moisture, we keep pushing forward. It'll be dry in the hills soon enough, and you never know when things might change in D.C.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board, which consists of Publisher John Walker, Editor Tim Fought, City Editor Todd Kepple and Opinion Editor Pat Bushey. Most of the editorials are written by Bushey. Fought wrote today's.


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