Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

The valley-altering plan is the Wallowa Valley Water Management Plan of 2004, contained in Senate Bill S. 1355RS.  This Bill is close to passage in Congress. To view this Bill please visit www.StopTheWaterGrab.org

Among the Bill's most significant features:
- locking up valley irrigation water and placing it under outside control;
- disrupting the valley ecosystem with water transfers and pipelines; and
 - facilitating the (re)introduction of endangered species of salmon.

Water War in the Making at Wallowa Dam?

By Rachael McDonald

JOSEPH, OR 2004-06-28 (Oregon Considered) - A proposed new dam in Eastern Oregon is dividing the citizens of sparsely populated Wallowa County. The Nez Perce tribe and many local farmers are seeking federal funds for the project. But others are angry that the money will come with strings attached and they're fighting to keep the government out.

The Wallowa Valley is breathtakingly beautiful. Lush and green after spring rains, with snowcapped peaks in the Eagle Cap Wilderness looming high to the west. At the foot of Wallowa Lake is a cemetery.

Jim Harbeck: "Old Chief Joseph, when he died he wanted to be buried close to his people."

Jim Harbeck is a biologist for the Nez Perce Tribe. He points to Chief Joseph's final resting place.

Jim Harbeck: "And he wanted to be buried there because he knew that his people would always be here because the fish would be here."

Since the days of Chief Joseph, this valley has been a land of conflict and heartbreak. The Nez Perce were pushed out. Then white settlers blocked the river and started irrigated farming. Like many places in the northwest the dam has spelled doom for salmon.

Jim Harbeck: "You can't help but have a gut reaction to a place like this in the fall, and when you see perfect conditions and there's no salmon here. There should be salmon here. And to be honest that's a horrible feeling."

The 90-year-old Wallowa dam is in disrepair and how to fix it is now at the center of a fight over the future of the valley. The Nez Perce would like a new dam to include fish ladders and a pipeline to help restore sockeye and Chinook to the region.

The trouble is the project will cost $32 million. Local landowners who are members of the privately owned Associated Ditch Companies, say they can't afford that.

David Hockett: "We looked at a lot of different funding sources, talked to a lot of people. It became painfully obvious that we were going to have to go to the federal government for help. Not something we wanted to do right off the top."

David Hockett is a manager with the Associated Ditch Companies. At town meetings, he's built support among many local farmers for a water plan that includes both irrigation and salmon restoration.

Farmer Jim Dawson likes the idea even though the return of salmon may bring more federal scrutiny to this isolated corner of Oregon.

Jim Dawson: "The regulators are already here. And these laws are going to be complied with either voluntarily or involuntarily. We prefer to do it as a partner with the regulators and with the other agencies, rather than butting heads with them."

Others are afraid. For nearly a century control of the valley's water has been in the hands of farmers and ranchers and the new dam proposal would more clearly include other stakeholders.

Wayne Wolfe: "We got a nice little valley here and we do our own business and if they let all those agencies in here and the tribe, I think they're going to ruin Wallowa County. I can't understand why they'd even want such a thing."

Wayne Wolfe is a Wallowa old timer. He's been raising cattle here for 50 years. Wearing a seed cap and faded, dirt-stained jeans, he stands in the shade of his hay barn.

What drives his fear is what happened in the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon when irrigators lost out to salmon because there wasn't enough water for everyone.

Wayne Wolfe: "You know down in Klamath Falls, the water was shut off, by government agencies. So, why would they want to get them up here? I don't know."

The feud has grown bitter in recent weeks with opponents taking out full page ads in the weekly newspaper. One calls the Nez Perce tribe's alliance with government agencies a "cabal" that is deceiving and conspiring against farmers. In other ads the dam proposal is described as a "Trojan Horse" and, quote, a "water-wolf in sheep's clothing."

The dispute has even poured into the streets of the valley's tiny agricultural towns. Opponents lumbered down the main street of Joseph in tractors, hay-trucks and pickups. With patriotic music booming one truck towed a float depicting a giant salmon with a farmer clenched in its teeth.

Resident #1: "We need our dam fixed but we don't want government money in it."

Resident #2: "The government is gaining too much control over the west and it's an eastern movement as far as I'm concerned."

Resident #3: "I think the signs pretty well say it all. We want to keep Wallowa water in Wallowa and not have a lot of government agencies involved in what we're doing here."

The Wallowa dam proposal is now in senate committee in Washington. A vote is not expected until the next congress convenes in January. Until then, it's likely the deadlock over the future of the valley's water will continue.

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