Klamath Solution Takes Cooperation by All (Gov. Kitzhaber 1 June 2001)

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From The Oregonian “In My Opinion”
Klamath solution takes cooperation by all

Governor John A. Kitzhaber

There are no easy answers in this drought year or for the future; many interests must negotiate.

Friday, June 1, 2001

The current water crisis in the Klamath Basin has been 150 years in the making and serves as a reminder to us all that we are stretching our natural resources beyond their limits.

Even in a normal year, the water in the Klamath Basin cannot meet the current, and growing, demands for tribal, agricultural, industrial, municipal and fish and wildlife needs. And with this year’s near-record drought, the consequences of our actions have hit home in a disastrous way.

While we are working hard at the state level to address the short- and long-term impacts of this drought, the history of the Klamath Basin bears some scrutiny so we can understand how we got here in the first place — and can avoid getting here again in the future.

The history of the Klamath Basin includes tribal rights resulting from the 1864 treaty and later settlement of the basin at the urging of the federal government, which offered land and water to veterans of World Wars I and II. The Klamath Basin historically contributed significantly to coastal recreational and commercial fishing — an industry that has lost 7,000 jobs over the past 30 years related to Klamath species decline. Traditional tribal fishing for suckers in the basin stopped in 1986, two years before the Endangered Species Act listing, because of tribal concerns over population declines of these species.

This is the context in which drought has hit. The drought, in conjunction with the need to provide water in Upper Klamath Lake for listed suckers and in the Klamath River for listed coho, resulted in only 70,000 acre-feet of water available for irrigation from the Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Project, versus the usual 500,000 acre-feet. In addition, this year, no water is allocated for wildlife refuges, home to hundreds of bald eagles and a major waterfowl stopover on the Pacific Flyway.

As a state, we have taken a number of steps to try to avoid, minimize or mitigate these impacts. A drought emergency has been declared for Klamath County. At my request, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has also declared a drought disaster. Furthermore, before the final biological opinions were released in early April, I urged the secretaries of Commerce, Interior and Agriculture to exercise maximum flexibility and share the burden, given the severe drought conditions.

At my request, state Attorney General Hardy Meyers asked the U.S. District Court in Eugene to supervise court-ordered mediation of all parties to resolve both the short-term and long-term issues in the basin. Three days of mediation occurred in late April in an attempt to find a compromise for this year. While the state put serious proposals on the table, the parties were unable to reach agreement. However, mediation will resume on the long-term issues in the basin this month. The state is taking the lead in offering the court a proposal on the conduct, scope and timing of continued mediation.

We have learned that many of the traditional federal disaster-assistance programs do not fit the needs in Klamath County. I have asked members of the congressional delegation to make a specific request for the Klamath as part of any supplemental appropriations bill for this fiscal year. I have also asked the federal agencies to return to mediation with a willingness to bring long-term solutions to the table.

Oregon’s state agencies already have made available programs, services and assistance to individuals and businesses in need.

Oregon’s Water Resources Department has been working to process emergency water permits and limited licenses to tap groundwater sources.

Having heard concerns about the science being used in the basin to make decisions about water allocation, I have asked the Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team, created as part of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, to review the available science and to offer an opinion about the reliability of that information for making decisions that have such critical effects on the basin.

All of these efforts, however, will not solve the underlying problem in the Klamath Basin: A demand for water that exceeds the supply of water.

No court can solve this problem; no one person can solve this problem. It will take all the parties coming to the mediation table — leaving their positions at the door — ready to roll up their sleeves and design a long-term solution that will sustain the Klamath Basin for the benefit of communities, the economy and the environment.

The recent political rhetoric about amending the Endangered Species Act is just that — political rhetoric, making for good sound bites, but doing nothing to solve the current crisis in Klamath County. I am on record supporting changes to the act that were proposed in Congress a few years ago. It is clear from that experience, however, that there is not the national consensus or will to amend the act. This is even more true of this Congress than the last.

Only the people in the Klamath who care about the future of their watershed, their economy and their communities —working with tribal, state and federal officials — have the tools to meet this challenge. Increased water storage, decreased demand, enhanced conservation, habitat improvements and many more actions can and should be taken to ensure a sustainable future for all species in the Klamath Basin. I will continue to do all I can to bring these actions about.

Gov. John Kitzhaber can be reached at 503-378-4582 or via the Web site www.governor.state.or.us.

Copyright 2001 Oregon Live. All Rights Reserved.