Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Water pact needs some PR savvy
Herald and News Editorial August 21, 2008 by editor Steve Miller
This analogy is meant to urge proponents of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) to be more visible in garnering public support.
Say some huge (company, agency, etc.) decided the Klamath Basin was the perfect place to site its (factory, retail mall, storage facility, etc.). Imagine that they were going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and it would have billions of dollars of economic impact, but that it was going to be controversial (what isn’t controversial these days?).
1. Isn’t that about what KBRA proponents have? Something that will cost hundreds of millions, potentially impacts everyone here by billions, and is sure enough controversial?
2. Now, imagine that the pretend outfit was public relations savvy: They’d constantly be around, talking it up, answering questions, trying to squelch bad information, taking up friendly debate where needed. They’d be at commissioner meetings, chamber meetings, county fairs, quilting bees.
So where is the KBRA public relations? There was a wave a few months ago, but since then there’s certainly not the perception that proponents are hot on the trail of this thing.
This is a landmark agreement, meant to stabilize water availability for irrigation and for salmon recovery downriver, and to provide a route out of years-long water rights adjudication. It calls for removal of dams, for purchase of forest land for the Klamath Tribes, and much more. 3. It took representatives of more than two dozen groups more than two years of negotiating to author it. It is supported by a majority of those stakeholder groups; it is opposed by some that either want things to remain unchanged or want a better deal than the agreement provides.
We sense we’re not hearing much from the proponents for a few different reasons:
n Private meetings. Some opponents try to make something of the fact that the agreement was hammered out in closed meetings. We’re proponents of open meetings, but don’t see anything unreasonable about closed negotiations for a deal of this magnitude, which involves real estate and legal rights. The danger is that stakeholders got so used to meeting in private that they won’t ever see the need to be too public.
That would be a mistake, because they need public support, if for no other reason but that the public gets to vote for the politicians they need to help seal the deal.
n Burnout. 4. Anyone can imagine what it’s like to leave your business behind and head out of town to meet with a bunch of people (some of whom you’ve been at odds with for generations) to build an agreement of this intricacy. But proponents shouldn’t stop the public work — the opponents are energized and that goes a long way in a battle for public opinion. If the negotiating front-liners are burned out, there needs to be a second wave.
5. n Farm work. It’s that time of year. There’s been a lot to get done the last few months. Opponents such as Commissioner Bill Brown know this is the right time of the year to pick up the ball, even use a little taxpayer money to go and lobby on behalf of those who want to kill the agreement, and there’ll be no one downfield getting in the way. And it’s not necessarily wrong for him to do that ... it’s his conscience.
Proponents have to fit public relations work in somehow — there are too many people who are undecided about it and too many who are fence-sitting or wavering.
It’s time to make hay, in more ways than one.
Commentary by a KBC Editor
1. No, the settlement agreement won't cost "hundreds of millions..." The agreement costs taxpayers $1 billion, and that does not include the possibly 4-billion dollars for dam removal.
2. Perhaps the proponents
have no answers for the public's questions. A few unanswered
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