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Water call should send message Basin needs a real answer, Area needs congressional help for a long-term plan

 "...The 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..." KBC ANALYSIS: H&N got it right...it's not about fish, it's "land for water". Tribes sold reservation. Tribes will call on irrigation water (like happening in this flood year) until they can get their land given back to them again, and the Klamath hydroelectric dams destroyed. Some call it 'blackmail.'

When 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 rivers.

The 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.

The 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.

It’s a 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.

It 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.

It 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.

The “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.

A couple of points we think deserve to be repeated:

The 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.

The 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 solution.

In a 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.

Editorial Board

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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