Congress should stop stalling on a Klamath Basin solution: Guest opinion

Posted by Renee Magyar on April 12, 2013

Congressional vote is needed to move toward restoration and peace in the Klamath Basin


Originally published in the Oregonian April 12, 2013

By Martin Goebel

There has been significant news over the past month about the Klamath Basin: the end to a nearly 40-year process by the state of Oregon that granted the Klamath Tribes most senior water rights, and the release of the final environmental impact statement by the U.S. Department of Interior, which recommends taking out four dams on the Klamath River. This news completes some of the major chapters in the still-unfinished tale of how the Klamath community will deal with the reality that most years there is not enough water to go around.

Unless Congress acts soon, the next chapter will be about another crisis on the Klamath. Promise has turned to panic in the basin this spring. Drought-like water levels are expected. Irrigator power rates will approach some of the highest in the West. A fish sacred to the Klamath Tribes teeters near extinction. And there is no question that the newly adjudicated water rights create winners and losers: Those with junior water rights can, and probably will, see their water turned off.

Weary from the decades of fighting and the rotating crises since 2001 that nearly broke their community, an unlikely coalition of farmers, fishermen, tribes and environmentalists, along with dam owner PacifiCorp and government representatives, crafted the landmark Klamath Settlement Agreements signed in 2010. Without undermining environmental laws or tribal treaty rights, these settlements offer balanced, locally crafted solutions for removing outdated dams, sharing water, and better aligning ecological and economic health.

Unfortunately, legislation introduced in 2011 to help fully enable the settlements remains untouched in Congress. Hindsight is 20/20 in the Klamath. This community knows what can happen, and there are huge costs to doing nothing: lost farms, lost fisheries, lost boats, lost jobs --and lost hope.

That is why the parties to the settlements have put aside their own ideology, their own biases and their own vision of the perfect result, and taken a collaborative path they believe is the fastest and least expensive, and in the long-term best interest of fish and people. They have done their job.

In his new role as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., recently said that he has a "strong interest in seeing the difficult water resource issues in the Klamath Basin resolved."

It is now time for Wyden and his colleagues in Congress to do their part this year to prevent another crisis. They must turn interest into action for the thousands of families that depend on the waters of the Klamath by passing legislation to support the kind of solutions in the Klamath Settlement Agreements.

Martin Goebel is president of Sustainable Northwest, based in Portland.