Friday, December 18, 2015

How a stunning Klamath Basin water agreement has been doomed by lawmakers

The people of the Klamath Basin did everything right. After years of acrimonious lawsuits, public denunciations and millions of dollars spent fruitlessly on lobbyists, the warring sides in what had become the nation's most contentious river basin decided a decade ago to do something unexpected: They negotiated. On one side were farmers (and later ranchers) at the top of the basin, who relied on the Klamath River's water for their fields and on power generated by four dams to run their irrigation pumps. On the other side, commercial fishermen and the basin's four Native American tribes deplored the dams and water diversions for decimating the Klamath's once-abundant salmon, the source of the fishermen's livelihood and the foundation of the tribes' culture and diet. Over the next few years, negotiators met hundreds of times. They put in 80-hour weeks, driving five or six hours to attend meetings, often while struggling to run their far-from-lucrative businesses. It took them a year to build trust. What they learned, they said later, was that the presumed monsters across the negotiating table also cared about their families, the river and the land: They weren't so different after all. The negotiations were helped along by basin citizens who acted with extraordinary courage, showing the way. In 2001, when the basin was smoldering with anger and hard-hit by drought, a Klamath Tribes of Oregon leader named Jeff Mitchell braved farmers' hostility as he knocked on their doors to tell them he commiserated with their water-scarce plight. Becky and Taylor Hyde stepped across the rancher-Native American divide by turning over trusteeship of their land to the tribe that had once occupied it. Steve Kandra, a farmer who sued the federal government for cutting off his water during the drought, withdrew the suit and worked with tribal members toward an agreement, despite the outrage of his fellow farmers. The spirit of compromise ended up jumbling so many allegiances that Greg Addington, the head of the Upper Klamath Basin farmers association, told me, “My friends are my enemies and my enemies are my friends." In 2008, when the negotiators announced a stunning agreement, the congressman who represents the Upper Basin, Greg Walden, singled out the negotiators' thoughtful grass-roots process for praise. After declaring that they “deserve a medal,” he said, “I've always felt the best and longest-lasting solution would come from the various parties in the basin working out a plan that made sense for all concerned.”...more

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