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The Boot 12/16-12/23 

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No Dam Deal

Sometimes, compromise is a good and necessary thing. But an outcome that leaves all but a few parties dissatisfied does not an effective compromise make. Rep. Greg Walden's draft legislation purporting to approve the contentious Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is a prime example of a false compromise. Under the guise of getting things done before that agreement expires at the end of the year, Walden's bill removes many of the hard fought wins for a variety of parties involved who crafted the original agreement.

The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, originally signed in 2010, sought to create a process for the removal of four failing dams; to strike a balance between the needs of irrigators and wildlife; to resolve differences between the Tribes, irrigators, and the U.S. government over how much water is needed for fish in the basin; and ensure the Tribes have access to sustainable natural resources. That agreement is set to expire at the end of the year.

At the crux of the conflict is how to stretch an over-committed water supply to meet the needs of tribes (who are the senior water rights holders), fish, and farmers. In 2001, when drought forced water managers to shut off the supply to irrigators, farmers lost some $40 million in revenues.

Given the number of blows the bill contains to the parties involved in those lengthy and difficult negotiations, it's unclear if Walden is actually serious about passing the thing. First off, it does not include any provision for the removal of dams. Second, it calls for the Klamath River tribes to relinquish senior water rights. And finally, it would authorize the transfer of 100,000 acres each of federal forest lands to Klamath County in Oregon and to Siskyou County in California to be logged by timber companies.

So while there are plenty of parties who stand to lose something with the bill, there are a few with something to gain. Those who would gain are the private timber companies and agricultural interests.

In a letter to the Oregonian, Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association expressed "severe disappointment" with Walden's refusal to include the key component of dam removal.

"Mr. Walden's bill fails to honor local stakeholders' agreement to remove four aging dams on the Klamath River to make way for salmon recovery. In doing so, Mr. Walden has doomed any sort of certainty for the health of fisheries in the river and the sportfishing industry that relies on their healthy populations."

Hamilton also points out that despite efforts by some to characterize the bill as a compromise, business interests seem to be the only ones not shortchanged by the proposal.

"The proposed transfer of U.S. Forest Service lands away from public hands to timber development is nothing short of a land grab for the benefit of private corporations at the expense of Oregon sportsmen and women. Public lands belong to all of us and should not be given away."

And tribal leaders are likewise balking at the idea that they should give up their senior water rights in exchange for 100,000 acres of land that, to be fair, is a small portion of what they are already entitled to.

Craig Tucker, Karuk tribe spokesman, told OPB's EarthFix that dam removal was the tribe's "bargained-for benefit," adding in no uncertain terms: "If there's no dam deal, then there's no damn deal."

If Walden wants to move the agreement forward, he should stick to the deal stakeholders brokered. Otherwise, he's hijacking the process for benefit of special interests and revealing a startling ignorance about the issues at hand. Or, better yet, rework the agreement to honor first and foremost the treaty rights of the Tribes.

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