Walden proposal too little, too late
December 8, 2015
Perhaps there’s a chance for a last-second near miracle in Congress that can rescue the Klamath Basin’s best hope for a water settlement.
While trying to keep that hope alive, people in the Klamath Basin affected by water issues — and that’s everyone — need to look ahead to what happens when 2015 turns into 2016 and the groups that signed on to support the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement are no longer bound by that showing of support.
The five-year time limit agreed to by those supporters will be up, and tenuous majorities that prevailed in the groups supporting the agreement — such as irrigators, tribes and environmentalists — probably no longer exist.
The proposed water agreements have struggled in Congress and the best hope was that U.S. Rep. Greg Walden could fashion an agreement to bridge the gap. That didn’t happen.
It might have had a better chance if Walden had recognized the issue’s importance earlier and gotten on board to work for a settlement. His effort in recent weeks was too little, too late.
His proposed agreement included a provision that the Klamath Tribes give up their Upper Basin senior water right in exchange for 100,000 acres of federal forest lands and economic development help.
The Tribes’ senior water right was authenticated by the water adjudication process completed last year by the State of Oregon and has been a cornerstone of the tribal position. Tribal Chairman Don Gentry made that plain, saying, “We’re not relinquishing our water rights.” That should have been no surprise, and if Walden was surprised then he needs a new set of eyes and ears in the Basin.
The Klamath Tribes had agreed to provide water for irrigation by not fully exercising their senior water right, which they already had been doing to help Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators. But that was only if all other provisions in the proposed agreement were met, which Walden’s proposal doesn’t do.
Perhaps he’s hoping that even while his proposal falls short it will be a starting point to what can be hammered together by elements that in a few short weeks will no longer be bound by agreements they’ve already made. We can hope so too, but the soon-to-be gone ties among the supporters were difficult to put together five years ago and look even more difficult to recreate in 2016.
Removal of four Klamath River dams is another deal-breaker for the tribes, especially along the lower river, where support from the tribes on the KBRA wasn’t unanimous even at the beginning and has deteriorated since.
As for what happens after the end of the year without an agreement, it looks like this to us: more expensive litigation, more uncertainty, more conflict.