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Conservancy group wants more negotiations

Fairness is not the objective for the majority of those at the table during the first talks

By ANDREA RABE Guest writer Herald and News 2/28/08

   Resource Conservancy would like to express support for the Klamath County Commissioners decision to call for further mediated settlement negotiations between the Klamath Tribes, on-Project irrigators, and off-Project irrigators. 

   Resource Conservancy is a non-profit organization, which represents the interests of Upper Klamath Basin (off-Project) irrigators. It represents through its affiliated non-profits, Fort Klamath Critical Habitat Landowners and the Sprague River Water Resource Foundation all but a handful of contestants to the in-stream flow claims on the upper tributaries in the Klamath adjudication. 

   During the public hearing before the Klamath County commissioners on the proposed Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement Draft 11, it became apparent that a majority of Klamath County residents in attendance opposed this agreement. Unless amended to address the concerns of the public, it appears this agreement is destined for failure. Among many concerns voiced by the audience was the often-heard concern of basic inequities between the favorable treatment of the Klamath Tribes and the on-Project irrigators at the expense of the off-Project irrigation community. 

   How did we get to this point? The settlement agreement was crafted by a group representing 26 diverse organizations. 

   This was to be a consensus group, meaning all parties had to support the proposed settlement agreement. 

   Klamath Off-Project Water Users was granted a seat at the table to represent off-Project power users. Resource Conservancy requested a seat at the table to represent off-Project irrigators.

Legitimate stakeholder 

   Resource Conservancy, a legitimate stakeholder in a public-funded negotiation, was denied a seat at the table. Fairness, equity and a democratic-intended settlement was not the objective for the majority of those at the table at that time. Even though the off-Project power users had a different mission, they tried to incorporate the Upper Basin irrigators concerns after Resource Conservancy was denied a seat. 

   A settlement framework was agreed upon on Jan. 20. 

   In exchange for the retirement of water rights using 2001 base year on approximately 18,000 acres, which equated to 30,000 acre-feet of water from the Upper Basin, the Upper Basin was to receive assurances from the U.S. government, Klamath Tribes, and on-Project water users. These assurances included no further call on additional water, equal access to affordable power, and protection from endangered species regulatory actions. Any water retired between the 2001 base year to present was to be credited toward the 30,000 acre-feet. This was agreed upon by all groups at the table. 

   Draft 11 does not include any of the above-mentioned assurances which were to be provided to the Upper Basin. 

   The proposed retirement of 30,000 acre-feet of water was all new water with no credit given for irrigated land already retired. No endangered species protections were to be given; no assurances against additional calls after the 30,000 acre feet retirement was provided; and affordable power as structured was impractical for Upper Basin irrigators to obtain. 

   This erosion in the Upper Basin position was done by changing the settlement group from a consensus process to a majority vote process. Without a consensus approach the Upper Basin interests could not be protected from the greed of competing interests. 

   We at Resource Conservancy think negotiation is an absolute necessity. 

   Already the federal government and The Nature Conservancy have retired 98,000 irrigated acres from agricultural production, and we need to move forward settling our differences.

An established record 

   Twice before we negotiated settlements with the Klamath Project and settlement documents were signed by us with the Klamath Tribes in Washington, D.C. with former Tribal Chair Allen Foreman. Each time dissolution of agreed upon settlement was the result of others, while we stood by ready to honor our side of the agreements. 

   We eagerly look forward to the Klamath Tribes and on-Project water users with the concurrence of the federal government to come forward and in good faith, negotiate a settlement. The settlement could be a formula for a non-litigous prosperous future and a premature end to the Klamath adjudication and its accompanying years of litigation. 

   The Klamath County commissioners have graciously accepted the challenge to further negotiations. Resource Conservancy, in partnership with Klamath off-Project Water Users (Upper Basin power users), has accepted the challenge. We eagerly await a positive response from the Klamath Tribes and on-Project irrigators.



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