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Topic: Water     Department: Letters

Greed overtakes common sense on the Klamath

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Your article "Severe Drought forces a moment of truth on the Klamath," (HCN, 08/19/13) fails to mention that many Basin irrigators brought this situation upon themselves through egregious water use.

Around 2000, I was the northwest director for the American Land Conservancy. We had painstakingly put together a package of willing seller buyouts on the Klamath Project that would have allowed more water for the Klamath Refuge and up-Basin farmers. Nearly $500 million was earmarked in the 2000 Farm Bill. But Karl Rove, smelling a political opportunity, latched onto the issue and the money found itself used for "irrigation efficiency," which meant more groundwater pumping and fallow fields re-irrigated. Water quality on the Refuge plummeted.

Concurrently, flood irrigation continued on a massive scale in places like the Wood River Valley, which turned rivers to trickles and 1,000-acre fields into lakes, dumping highly enriched water (read: cattle waste) into Upper Klamath Lake. The few of us who stood up and pointed out the zero sum result -- conservation folks, fishermen, tribal members, even U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees -- were targeted. Windows were shot out, businesses boycotted, death threats made, property destroyed, cars run off the road.

Well-intentioned efforts like the Hatfield Upper Basin Working Group, a broad-based effort to bring everyone to the table, were marginalized by Upper Basin irrigators and Klamath Project farmers who would not budge an inch. The same is true of the deal now sitting on the table. In 2002, the result was the massive salmon kill on the Klamath River that made national news.

The Basin's water is grossly over-allocated and misused to the point where it has pushed numerous fish species to the brink of extinction. Greed and xenophobia exceeded common sense in the Klamath a long time ago. The re-establishment of senior water rights for the Klamath Tribes is the only solution that actually has a chance of working.

Rich McIntyre
Hailey, Idaho

Felice Pace
Felice Pace Subscriber
Sep 02, 2013 08:26 PM
Rich McIntyre brings a good perspective. The key to real progress on the Klamath remains - as Rich points out - a commitment to reducing irrigation demand through purchase of water rights from willing sellers. The main group standing in the way of that solution in Rich's day and now is the Klamath Water Users Association. Basin wide agriculture consumes over 80% of the water diverted from the Klamath and major tributaries: reducing demand basin-wide is the common-sense solution.

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