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Getting to ‘yes’ in the Klamath Basin.
Water issues prove divisive, both locally and on a national level
  by REP. GREG WALDEN  Guest Writer, Herald and News 9/28/14
     A dozen years ago, farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin suffered irreparable harm when two government agencies with conflicting demands and questionable data shut off water for irrigated agriculture, threatening a way of life and the economy of the region.

   Fertile farmlands turned to dust under the summer sun. Some farmers whose families farmed here for generations lost everything and filed for bankruptcy. A wildlife refuge nearly dried up. In response, citizens as part of the “Bucket Brigade” took water symbolically out of Lake Ewuana and passed it through 15,000 people into the A Canal, symbolizing this horrible thing that the government had done to the farmers.  

   I led with congressional hearings, an independent review by the National Academy of Science regarding the science behind the flawed decisions, and worked to improve fish passage through removal of Chiloquin Dam, better fish screens on the A Canal, and water efficiency/conservation measures in the Farm Bill.

   Since that time, various proposals, including the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, have been offered to address these important issues and bring water certainty to the Basin. But so far nothing has achieved broad enough support in the Basin or the halls of Congress.

   Now the Senate is working on a bill to address issues in the Upper Basin. I commend these efforts. Here are just a few suggestions to help all involved including farmers, ranchers, ratepayers, and tribes — get to ‘yes’ in the Basin and the nation’s capital.

   Take things one step at a time

   There was a time when major, expensive projects could be passed through Congress as part of a massive spending bill. Those days are over. While a comprehensive solution may have little chance of passing the House and Senate and being signed into law by the President, progress can be made in other ways.

   A better strategy is to find smaller pieces of the agreement that have broad support, and work on those first, one step at a time. That would bring us one step closer to the day the federal government provides long-term certainty and stability for the stakeholders in the Basin.  

   Build public support

   A major contribution to the failure of previous solutions is the lack of public support. Now, parties in the Upper Basin have come together to offer a solution, a positive step in the right direction. But for any solution to work, stakeholders must build public support for their plan. The public — the hardworking families of the Klamath Basin — is too often left out of this debate, hampering progress towards the goal.

   Any effort to build public support must recognize that removing all four dams is a non-starter. Most people in the Basin oppose such a plan, as do key folks in Congress.

   Reigning in abuses of the Endangered Species Act: When all is said and done, farmers, ranchers and other citizens need certainty that we won’t agree to a plan, only to face new litigation over the Endangered Species Act in the Basin. That could put us right back where we started. Any solution must include ironclad language that ends the status quo of gridlock and   uncertainty.

   This year, we saw another terrible drought in the Basin. Prompt action to solve these problems is crucial. It will not be easy, but doing nothing is not an option. It must be done for the people of the Klamath Basin.


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