Water call should send message Basin
needs a real answer, Area needs congressional help for a
people talk about water in the Klamath Basin, the discussion
can turn emotional in a hurry. That’s especially true when
the discussion’s backdrop is the recent “call” on water in
the upper Klamath Basin on the Sprague and Williamson
call means the Klamath Tribes, who have verified senior
rights to the water, can and are exercising them at a
“biological” level during the spring runoff, which is part
of the rights that came with the Treaty of 1864 between the
Tribes and the United States. The Tribes have first claim to
the water when its volume is above a certain strength.
situation also includes the possibility that other
irrigators, mostly ranchers, in the Upper Klamath Basin who
rely on those rivers and their tributaries, will face more
calls as the Tribes continue to exercise their water rights.
dismal outlook for all involved, and that includes the
Tribes. What they get is a slug of water, but still won’t
have the land base, economic development engine or
restoration of the fisheries the Tribes want. It would also
come at devastating cost to a $300 million local industry —
agriculture. Everybody loses.
doesn’t have to be that way, and shouldn’t be. We don’t want
a return to 2001 when an irrigation shutoff to different
irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project to help fish
led to major losses to agriculture and soured relations with
the Tribes that led to some incidents of racism.
also points to the Basin’s biggest water problem — lack of
an overall, water-sharing agreement that only Congress can
provide but first, it has to be convinced that it has
workable plan, which can only come from the Basin.
“devastation” to the local area that could result isn’t from
the current call, but from future calls that could be made
after the unusually high water has dropped. So there are
probably a few weeks in which to find an agreement to at
least get through the year on the way to a Basin-wide
water-agreement in which Congress has a vital role.
Finding the solutions means U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who
represents Klamath County along with most of Oregon’s land
area in Congress, has to push for it, along with U.S. Sens.
Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. Yes, Klamath County water issues
have absorbed a lot of their time in recent years. Some
things don’t come easy.
Looking back at the reasons the problem exists, however —
promising too much to water users and tribal treaties that
didn’t get properly enforced — the federal government had a
big hand in creating the problem, and now has an obligation
to play a big role in cleaning up the mess.
couple of points we think deserve to be repeated:
local community should accept the fact that an overall
settlement isn’t going to happen without a land settlement
with the Tribes. Yes, land for water. Accept it and move on.
Without it, turmoil and conflict will continue along with a
deteriorating local economy.
Tribes should move to solve the immediate problem. That
means agreeing to meet with the irrigators soon. Aside from
the immediate damage, failure to solve 2017’s problem will
make it harder to work together on a Basin-wide permanent
way, the water call may not have been a bad thing. Maybe the
Tribes’ exercise of their water rights will be the wake-up
call everyone needs to find a long-term Basin-wide answer.
The remaining question is, who heard it and what are they
going to do about it.
The H&N View represents
the opinion of the Herald and News Editorial Board. Its
members are Publisher Mark Dobie, Editor Gerry O’Brien and
Forum Editor Pat Bushey, who wrote today’s editorial.
Community advisers to the editorial board are Sergio
Cisneros, Jenine Stuedli, Tracey Liskey and Ernie Palmer.
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