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Klamath irrigators, tribes engage in productive dialogue

Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece was developed and submitted jointly by the Klamath Water Users Association, the Karuk and the Yurok Tribes of Northern California.

The Klamath Basin has become famous for conflict. Tribes, Irrigators, environmentalists and others have capably advocated their positions. We all have had our victories and losses in the legal and administrative battles. Yet no one is better off. We think there is a better way.

We’re committed to resolve our differences in a constructive way, to our mutual benefit, and we’re talking. There are signs of progress that differ from past efforts. We hope the communities we represent, and all those who care about those communities, support us and will help us create an environment for this constructive dialogue to continue.

An important process in this progress is the proposed relicensing of the hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. In connection with this event, a settlement group has been formed. We, other Tribes and Irrigators, environmentalists, PacifiCorp, and government agencies are all involved. We are also meeting and talking in separate discussions. It is no secret that major concerns for water users are affordable power and water certainty. It is no secret that the Tribes want considerable improvements in their fisheries and in fact want dams removed. These are all subjects with tremendous implications for the people who live in this basin.

We are listening to each other. The Tribes do not want to see Upper Basin Irrigators go out of business. The Irrigators share the Tribes’ goals of increased fish population and understand that it is in everyone’s interest to improve habitat and restore historical habitats. Where there is a will, there is a way, and we genuinely believe this is a time when we can pool our efforts to do good for both tribal and irrigation communities.

We need help to promote an atmosphere that will allow our dialogue to bear fruit. We fully recognize that, in the near term, disagreements will continue on some issues, but we will seek to manage the disagreements and further catalyze our collaborative discussions. To do otherwise would not be in either the individual or collective interests of the people who live in the Klamath Basin and rely on its resources.

For many years the atmosphere has been “us versus them,” Tribes versus Irrigators, farms versus fish. We stand together to say the issue is NOT about farms or fish, it is about farms AND fish. We represent local cultures and economies that are important to the Klamath watershed and collectively we are trying to understand each others’ needs.

The dialogue that is occurring is not easy, but doing something meaningful rarely is.

At this point there are neither guarantees nor agreements, but the fact that we are talking, and more importantly, listening to one another, is certainly encouraging. We recognize that these issues are complex and go beyond merely what we think or agree to.

There are many other considerations including the opinions of our local communities and elected officials. We have not begun to do the heavy lifting that will be required to bring broad support to some sort of “settlement,” but collectively we agree that fighting one another constantly in the courts and media hasn’t worked out well for anyone. We are doggedly pursuing a collaborative approach for resolving some very tough issues, and have genuine hope.

Greg Addington is executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. Howard McConnell is chairman of the Yurok Tribe, and Leaf Hillman is vice chairman of the Karuk Tribe.
This information and much more that you need to know about the ESA, the Klamath Basin, and private property rights can be found at The Klamath Bucket Brigade's website - http://www.klamathbucketbrigade.org/ -- please visit today.

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