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Congressman's words conflict with each other

this article is followed by Blumenauer's H&N response: Failure to deal with Basin problems the real threat

Published August 31, 2004

He talks Basinwide solution, but not for all the Basin

One has to wonder: If the various political interests in the Klamath Basin got together around a table and eventually emerged with a compromise in the water struggle that included continued farming on at least part of the lands leased from the national wildlife refuge, would Earl Blumenauer support it?

The question is pertinent because of the contradictory words uttered by the U.S. representative from Portland who visited Klamath Falls last weekend.

On the one hand, Blumenauer said, it's a bad thing that farmers are allowed to plant crops on refuges. He said he'd continue to press for legislation to reverse the effect of a law that allows the farming. The farming has been allowed for nearly a century, and the Congress specifically approved it in the Kuchel Act of 1964.

On the other hand, Blumenauer spoke approvingly of the consensus he heard in the Basin - that only the parties to the struggle, negotiating on a Basinwide basis, can bring resolution to the struggle. That is, nobody from the outside can impose a solution in the Basin - that includes the president, the Congress and the courts. The only way to peace around here is around a local table.

So, the question for Blumenauer is this: Which is it? Is the route to a resolution through local bargaining? Or is it through a decision in Washington to take the most productive tenth of the Klamath Reclamation Project out of crops and start Basin agriculture into a death spiral?

It isn't just Blumenauer who seems to pay lip service to the notion of a local resolution to the Basin's water struggle. Certainly there are factions in the Basin who reject compromise.

There are farmers who think there's no reason to bargain because their interests can be upheld in the water courts or in the Bush administration. There are members of the Klamath Tribes who think they can regain a reservation without making concessions about water. There are environmentalists who believe that history is on their side, that agriculture in the Basin is so vulnerable that continued pressure on many fronts will eventually cause it to collapse - these are the people Blumenauer represents.

None of these folks are inclined to send representatives to the table with the authority to engage in the give-and-take that leads to compromise. Nor, given that there's no venue for any bargaining currently, is there anything immoral about pressing one's self-interest.

But Blumenauer's visit demonstrates that at some point, somebody is going to have to take the idea of a locally negotiated settlement seriously and act on it, or otherwise the idea will become a cliche, the equivalent of the sort of religion that sends some people to church only at Easter and Christmas.

Apparently Blumenauer will continue to press his amendment in the House to cripple Basin agriculture. In the current political climate, he won't succeed. He's a Democrat, in the minority in the House and without influence in the White House.

But times change, and someday Blumenauer may prevail. In that unfortunate event, it would be decent of him not to do so and then come to the Basin talking about a Basinwide solution arrived at locally.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board. Tim Fought wrote today's editorial.


Failure to deal with Basin problems the real threat

Published September 3, 2004

By Earl Blumenauer

Earl Blumenauer of Portland is a member of Congress from Oregon's Third Congressional District.

He recently visited the Klamath Basin.

Guest columnist

The Herald and News recently asked a question editorially of me: Is the route to solving the problems in the Basin through local bargaining or "a decision in Washington to take the most productive tenth of the Klamath Reclamation Project out of crops and start Basin agriculture into a death spiral?"

That is precisely the mischaracterization of both the issue and potential solutions that have made the problems in the Basin worse.

My position is clear. The federal government has promised more water over the last century to farmers, Native Americans, wildlife and endangered species than nature can deliver.

My amendment was not about eliminating farming, it was simply to phase out water-intensive agriculture on the lease-lands. There are crops and techniques that do not require water at a time when the quality is the worst and the quantity is the least.

If I were a resident of the Basin, I would be deeply concerned about a death spiral for Basin agriculture, but the threat is not my amendment. The threat is an unwillingness or an inability for national and local political leadership as well as local agriculture and community interests to deal with the real problems. There isn't enough water for all of the promises.

Extensive use of wells to supplement flows has resulted in a dramatic and dangerous reduction in the water table, creating water supply and quality problems for more than just farmers. The wildlife refuges are shrinking in size, due to lack of water, at exactly the time that some in Klamath Falls are awakening to the huge potential of having the largest concentration of migratory birds on the West Coast in their backyard.

Other forces will change the economics of agriculture in the Basin, such as hydro project relicensing due in 15 months, when farmers will see their first rate increase in nearly a century with electricity prices going up at least 10 and more likely 20 times. During my visits, I heard from a number of farmers who felt that this would make their operations uneconomical and drive down the value of their land to a fraction of what it is today.

The Klamath Basin is not alone in its crisis.

There are river basins throughout the West including the Colorado, the Columbia, and the Rio Grande, where people face similar struggles.

What is unique about the Klamath is that it is smaller in scale and solutions are more immediate and lower in cost. Instead of denying reality, misrepresenting positions, and attacking potential solutions, it is important to take advantage of interest, support, and urgency to make progress in the next 18 months.

The continued political stalemate and deteriorating situation in the Klamath Basin is bad not just for Native Americans, wildlife, and farmers. It is a serious problem for Oregon and the nation. I welcome continued discussion of how we make progress, and I will urge Oregonians to think in the long term about the broadest possible solutions.


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