Klamath collaboration deserves support

By Erica Terence of Klamath Basin, Oregon. Erica is the Executive Director of the grassroots group Klamath Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization working to protect water quality, fisheries and river-dependent communities in the Klamath watershed.

For loud and proud enviros like me, it's much easier to fight bad projects than to make good ones happen. Collaboration, settlement and good faith negotiations tend to make my people nervous. But in my work to restore the Klamath River ecosystem and economy, I have learned that the price of status quo can be much greater than the cost of cooperation.

My lesson came through my work on a bi-partisan process that brought together farmers, tribes, fishermen and conservationists – many former enemies – to craft a fair solution to water sharing in the Klamath Basin. This took compromise and nobody got 100% of what they want; it’s just not possible with so many demands on limited water resources. The result was a locally-created agreement that settles water wars of the past and helps both fish and farms. The agreement is now legislation called the Klamath Economic Restoration Act that needs Congressional support.

The bill wasn’t created in D.C. committees by people who have no stake in the outcome, rather it was created by those who will be most affected by it – a grassroots coalition of Klamath Basin residents.

We’re grateful for Senator Merkley’s early support and sponsorship of the bill, and we look forward to the experience and leadership that Senator Wyden can bring to this effort. I believe our gridlocked Congress could learn a lot from the Klamath settlement process. It is possible to prevent problems from getting worse, and next year we should hold our elected officials accountable for failing to compromise – this inaction is costly. What’s at stake in the Klamath Basin is a natural resources economy worth a minimum of $750 million per year between agriculture and commercial fishing alone (that doesn’t include any tourism, sportfishing or strong subsistence tribal economies).

The cost of doing nothing in the Klamath has been estimated at $150 million when short term fixes and Band Aid disaster relief for farming and fishing economies are combined. In contrast, the cost of implementing the Klamath legislation – $35 million a year in new spending over 15 years – fixes the root causes of ongoing problems.

Beyond dollar figures, the revolving Klamath conflict has resulted in unemployment, disproportionate health problems and loss of cultural identity for the people who live here. The pain from these indignities is seen and felt everywhere, from the river reaches where native people harvest fish to feed their families to the checkout counter at the grocery stores in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Collaboration should be rewarded; we cannot afford to do nothing.

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    As someone born and raised in K. Falls, living for a time on the reservation in childhood, a one time fisherman on the Klamath River, I am glad to see this development. It's a far cry from when the sheriff's posse and farmer/rancher vigilante groups were riding down on the A Canal gate and illegally opening it, terrorizing anyone who objected and fomenting hatred for local Indians.

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    Collaboration should be rewarded when it comes up with real solutions. That is NOT true of either the Klamath Dam Deal or the Klamath Water Deal which the Merkley legislation seeks to authorize. These deals have divided our communities as never before!

    I speak as an Klamath River Basin resident who was working on Klamath River issues when Ms. Terence was born and as one of the founders of Klamath Riverkeeper. Unfortunately KR is now controlled by the Karuk Tribe and operated to fulfill the Tribe's agenda.

    These deals and Merkley's legislation to implement them put irrigators ahead of fish when it comes to water allocation, do not provide recovery flows in Klamath River and let PacifiCorp walk away from dams it owns free of liability for toxic legacies.

    Because the Deals and Merkley's legislation divide rather than unite the Klamath's tribal and environmental interests - they should be rejected.

    The alternative is not as Ms. Terence claims "to do nothing." The alternative is to return to the FERC process wherein the dams will come out quicker and unburdened by the costly and controversial KBRA Water Deal.

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    It's easy to understand why many people support the idea of Congress pouring $800 million into the Klamath Basin. But few people realize the adverse impact of the KBRA and KHSA on others, such as loss of federal protection for rights of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and other non-signatory California tribes.

    Furthermore, the assertion in Riverkeepers' letter--that it costs only "$35 million a year in new spending over 15 years"-- assumes that $18 million in existing federal funding will be redirected to the subsidies to be funded under KBRA. The updated App. C-2 of the KBRA calls for 15-year federal funding of $798.5 million, averaging $53.2 million per year. We don't know which good programs will be defunded and lost if $18 million per year is reprogrammed to the KBRA. Fundamentally, this is a bill that takes from the many (federal and especially California taxpayers) to give to a few.

    The truth is that the most important ecological improvement in the Basin--removal of the four dams--requires no legislation at all. The FERC licensing process will impose conditions making dam removal the cheapest option for PacifiCorp. That's how it worked at Condit dam in October 2011. If you didn't see that happen, look here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/10/111028-condit-dam-removal-video/ Tom

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