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Guest commentary: Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is unfair

By Carolyn Obenchain and Margaret Jacobs
Guest writers

September 27, 2009
Klamath Falls Herald and News
Our family has ranched in the upper Klamath Basin for four generations. Like our neighbors, not only are we dependent upon the land and water for our very livelihood, but we also understand better than many so-called “environmentalists” the need to protect this watershed. So when we first heard about a process to settle the water issues fairly, we were optimistic.

We respect and understand the legitimate, but competing calls on the water for the fish, the Tribes and the Project irrigators. Those needs are not more important or more solidly based in water law than those of off-Project irrigators. We sure like the idea of ending costly and seemingly endless litigation.

We were promised that all of the affected parties would have a say, that each would have to give up something in return for some water security and that the process would be fair. We were also assured that no agreement would be made that wasn’t acceptable to all major parties (as guaranteed in writing in the original Klamath Settlement Framework of 1-20-2007).

Negotiations kept secret

However, we worried when we learned these negotiations would be secret. In our experience, people who do things in secret usually have something to hide.

Now it surely seems like this negotiation was not honest, or in good faith, and that maybe that was the real reason for the secrecy. It was certainly not fair to the off-Project irrigators. It looks more like a setup to favor the Tribes and the Project irrigators at our expense.

Our irrigation representative was excluded from the talks.

The off-Project power representative tried to provide some input into the talks, but he was attacked personally and excluded from the final agreement.

The rules were changed from requiring agreement of all major parties to one where certain powerful interests could run roughshod over our legitimate needs. (It is like the old joke about a cougar, a coyote and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.)

Big incentives for some

Huge and costly incentives were offered: A 90,000-acre tree farm for the Tribes, dam removal and instream flow for the fish, water security plus $100 million for the Project irrigators, rate increased and indemnity from environmental costs for dam removal for Pacific Power, and the Klamath County government to receive Oregon Lottery funds to replace the tax dollars they would lose when the off-Project irrigators go out of business.

As a result, while every other party received something they wanted from the agreement, we did not get any assurance whatsoever for our water supply, while being forced to give up large amounts of our legally guaranteed water. Even this was slanted unfairly because the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement conveniently ignores all of the water that the off-Project irrigators have already given up, which equated to 100,000 acres already being dewatered.

The agreement is not only unfair to the off-Project irrigators, it sure looks like it was always designed to work that way so as to trade our water for the agendas of others. That is why we and most all of off-Project irrigators — along with over 1,800 Klamath County residents in a recent scientific poll — strongly oppose the agreement.

About the authors: Carolyn Obenchain and Margaret Jacobs are sisters who ranch in the Bly area. They’ve been active in water matters and their family has been ranching in the Upper Klamath Basin for four generations. They are “off-Project” ranchers —  their ranches are located off the Klamath Reclamation Project.

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