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Klamath farmers take heed of Metropolitan

February 11, 2010 by BRUCE COLBERT for the Capital Press

By making benefits to water users contingent on high water allocations, the 2010 Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is similar to the 1994 Interim Agricultural Water Program by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Klamath Basin landowners ought to avoid repeating the process that is presently devastating Southern California farmers.

The IAWP was established in 1994 to provide delivery of "surplus water" for agricultural purposes at a discounted rate. In exchange, participating agricultural water users agreed to an initial 30 percent reduction in deliveries during shortage periods and to larger reductions during greater shortages.

In November 2007, Metropolitan for the first time mandated that IAWP participants reduce their water use. The action impacted local farming communities, where growers cut their crops 30 percent. Avocado and citrus growers have stumped or removed trees. These water cutbacks continue to harm agriculture.

The reductions were caused by the ongoing drought and the regulatory restrictions on pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. These ongoing restrictions have fundamentally changed the availability of surplus water supplies for Metropolitan, with surplus supplies reduced for the foreseeable future.

As a result, Metropolitan voted to completely phase out the IAWP in 2008 over a five-year period. The IAWP water discount will be gradually reduced during the phase-out period. The cost of untreated IAWP water will increase by $90 per acre-foot and the cost of treated water will increase by $114 per acre-foot. By the end of the phase-out period, the water costs and the water allocation requirements for agricultural and urban customers will be the same. As of 2013, the IAWP will no longer exist.

By comparison, the Klamath agreement provides assurances that landowners will have full access to water in high-water years. In exchange, landowners cede irrigation water for conservation purposes in low-water years.

The KBRA calls for the acquisition of 30,000 acre-feet of water in the upper basin. Reintroduction of salmon above Iron Gate Dam could have potential regulatory or other legal consequences for users of water and land upstream of the current site of Iron Gate Dam under various statutory and common laws. This reintroduction of salmon could result in new or modified regulatory obligations that could affect the ability to divert or use or dispose of water, or the ability to utilize land productively.

Tribes reserve their rights to sue for more water under statutes of general applicability, including the Endangered Species Act. Furthermore, KBRA prohibits Klamath Project Water Users from contesting the potentially massive tribal instream claims. In other words, the KBRA provides the conditions for future water cutbacks.

Litigious environmental organizations, whose goals are to stop growth and commerce and to get farmers off the land, use conditions for future water cutbacks, such as those provided in the KBRA, to achieve their goals and put farmers out of business. These organizations share the experience they gain on the Klamath Basin with like-minded organizations at the state level on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Hence, the manmade drought and California's water crisis.

If Klamath Basin landowners want to avoid further devastation of their farming livelihoods, landowners would do well to take to heart what is already happening to farmers who ceded their rights during low water allocations. Examine the KBRA conditions for future water cutbacks and the potential for low water allocations.

Trust in "We the people," rather than indifferent, unaccountable bureaucrats and lobbyists, and stand strong for landowners' rights. Edmund Burke stated, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." To paraphrase Winston Churchill: Appeasing government is like feeding a crocodile, hoping it will eat you last.

Landowners must hold public officials accountable to avoid the loss of their rights, freedom and livelihoods.

Bruce Colbert is executive director of the Property Owners Association of Riverside County, Calif.
The association is a nonprofit, public policy research, lobbying and educational organization formed in 1983 to protect the interests and private property rights of landowners.


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