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 Oregon Water Resources Commission met with Klamath Commissioners and Irrigators
10/31/05, submitted article

The Oregon Water Resources Commission met at Oregon Institute of Technology on October 27th and 28th. An informative comprehensive workshop was held Thursday morning to help educate the commissioners about Klamath Basin water issues. The commissioners spent Thursday afternoon on a fieldtrip guided by basin irrigators, irrigation district managers, and State Senator Doug Whitsett. The fieldtrip was followed by an informal social hour hosted by the Klamath Water Users Association and dinner with the Commissioners, Oregon Water Resources Department staff, irrigators, and other interested parties at the Gray Gull Restaurant. The regularly scheduled Commission meeting was then held at OIT Friday morning.

During the June 29th Commission meeting held in Salem, Water Watch and several other extreme advocacy groups had brought a petition requesting the Commission to establish a moratorium on issuing any new surface and ground water use permits in the Upper Klamath Basin until the Klamath River adjudication is completed. The Commission correctly denied that petition even though some of the testimony offered by extremist advocates completely mischaracterized the Klamath River Basin and water use practices by irrigators. As a direct result of that factually challenged testimony, Senator Whitsett requested Oregon Water Resources Department Director Phil Ward and Oregon Water Resources Commission Chair Dan Thorndike to hold the next regularly scheduled Commission meeting in Klamath Falls to enable the Commissioners to see for themselves, to see with their own eyes, the kind of stewardship that our farmers, ranchers, dairymen, and timber land owners apply to their land and water resources. Senator Whitsett’s request resulted in the Klamath Falls Commission meeting and field trip.

Thursday morning the Commissioners heard from a wide spectrum of surface and ground water experts, irrigators, the Bureau of Reclamation, irrigation district managers, the Tribes, Water for Life Inc., The Nature Conservancy, Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, Klamath Water Users Association, Off project Water Users Association, Water Watch, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman Association, Senator Whitsett, County Commissioner John Elliot, and others. The Commissioners had ample opportunity to ask pertinent questions as well as for rebuttal testimony where appropriate. Although the Commissioners were exposed to a tremendous amount of information they remained engaged and appeared to grasp and understand the complexity of the Basin water issues.

During the afternoon fieldtrip the Commissioners were uniformly impressed by the quality of the agricultural operations they were shown, by the obvious conservation practices already in place, and most of all by the shear size of the agricultural endeavor in the Klamath area. The Commission is often told that agriculture in the Klamath Basin is really insignificant and represents an unnecessary blight on the Klamath River watershed. They are further told that the Upper Klamath River Basin is an ecological disaster. The field trip amply demonstrated those characterizations to be abject untruths.

The well attended Thursday evening social hour and dinner was a great opportunity for all participants to get better acquainted and to discuss some of the day’s issues and observations in depth. Several Commissioners commented on how well informed our Basin irrigators are on a broad spectrum of water issues both inside and outside of the Upper Klamath River Basin.

Friday morning’s work session included two additional opportunities for citizen testimony. Irrigators were well represented and continued to press home the actual causes of the perceived water shortage. They emphasized the extensive conservation and restoration practices already in practice. They outlined the obvious solution represented in additional off stream storage of available winter and spring watershed flows. And most significantly, the irrigators and the commissioners agree that workable solutions must originate from the ground up by local negotiation and problem solving.

The Commissioners thanked our local community for their hospitality and informative discussions and promised to come back for another Commission meeting in the near future.




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