Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Irrigators state case for opposition
By SARA HOTTMAN Herald and News 10/22/10
In a three-week series, the Herald and News sought to elucidate the many points of contention surrounding the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
But proponents and opponents disagree over how the agreement was portrayed.
“By and large the staff did a good job trying to tackle the issues that opponents or proponents bring up a lot,” said Greg Addington, director of the Klamath Water Users Association. “I didn’t agree with everything, and I’m sure the opponents had their issues, but I believe both sides were fairly represented.”
Opponents said the series read in support of the agreement.
“It seems to still have more from (supporters) than it does from our bunch,” said Kenny Schell, an on-Project irrigator. “It seems like there are two little paragraphs for us versus a full (column) for them.”
Schell said he sees a bias in the newspaper that leads the general public to believe the majority of irrigators support the KBRA, but his camp believes that irrigators who oppose the KBRA outnumber supporters. “We need more from the opposing side,” he said. Earlier this month, a group of irrigators from the Klamath Reclamation Project sat down with the Herald and News to discuss why they don’t support the KBRA.
“The cost and concessions are not worth the non-guarantee,” Schell said. “Why would you sign onto something just because it’s the only thing going?”
Their objections to the agreement include:
• The Endangered Species Act: “The ESA regulates water now, and it will still regulate water if KBRA goes through,” Schell said.
The federal Endangered Species Act protects animals threatened by extinction, including coho salmon, bull trout and Lost River and shortnose suckers in the Klamath Basin. On-Project farmers felt the full force of the act in 2001 when the Bureau didn’t release surface water in order to maintain water levels for endangered fish during a drought.
Grant Knoll, a rancher, said the biological opinions that led to the fishes’ endangered status were flawed.
“The biological opinions from 2001 to 2009 have not brought the sucker fish back. The higher lake levels have not brought it back. They already had their chance and it hasn’t worked,” he said. “(Retaining) 5 to 10 percent more water in the lake for fish breaks our backs, but what does it do for the fish?”
KBRA proponents say the federal agencies that signed onto the agreement will help leverage a clause in the act that allows environmental agencies to approve habitat conservation plans that essentially modify restrictions to make water available for both fish and irrigators.
“They’re willing to lower standards if we sign the KBRA,” Schell said. “Apparently the fish can do with less water if we sign this document.”
“It’s not OK to say the ESA is here so we shouldn’t do anything with the agreement,” Addington said. “There are a bunch of other advantages. … To throw your hands up in the air and say, ‘it’s all or nothing’ doesn’t seem realistic.”
• Support: “I believe the majority of irrigators are against the KBRA,” Schell said.
“This was the most important decision ever for the irrigation districts,” and organizers didn’t get irrigators’ approval before pushing the agreement through, Schell said.
“Irrigation districts elect (board members) to work on these water things,” Addington said. “If he’s right, (Schell’s camp) should take over these boards.”
• Guarantees: “The only ones guaranteed in KBRA are whoever wants the dams out and the (tribes),” Schell said.
The Klamath Tribes get the tree farm, the fish get restored habitats, the power company gets its dams out, but farmers, Schell said, are guaranteed nothing but less water.
The KBRA calls for irrigators to voluntarily surrender 30,000 acre-feet of irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake each year. With less water, farmers would voluntarily idle some land, and like this year, could receive government subsidies for it.
“When (farmers) idle land (they) get money for nothing, and that’s costing other taxpayers money,” Knoll said.
“ They ’re making welfare farmers out of us,” Schell added. “KBRA is downsizing us. It’s not improving anything, it’s making it worse.”
Addington said this irrigation year was bad, but “the reason it wasn’t 2001 was because of the relationships we developed with the KBRA.
“The day the agreement was signed the tribes agreed not to do anything to interfere with the Project water supply,” he said. “That’s more meaningful than most people will probably ever realize.”
Page Updated: Saturday October 23, 2010 02:42 AM Pacific
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