Walden cuts pressure for fast action on water pact

Walden cuts pressure for fast action on water pact

Herald and News editorial on the draft Klamath settlement proposal.

By Pat Bushey
Herald and News
January 30, 2008


The proposed settlement of Klamath River water issues deserves better than a quick decision. It’s too big, too complex and too expensive for that treatment. People need time to absorb it.

It could affect almost everyone in the Basin, even those who don’t irrigate, aren’t members of tribes or aren’t fishermen. Its ramifications would ripple through the Basin’s economy, culture and land-use practices.

Comments last week removed some of the pressure for quick action.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said there’s little possibility that Congress could act this year. The proposed settlement would be largely built on federal funds and with cooperation of federal agencies.

The Bush administration has shown an active interest in events in the Klamath Basin, starting with the cutoff of water to the Klamath Reclamation Project in 2001.

There’s no way to tell if that same interest would be shown by a new administration, and there was some feeling that an all-encompassing agreement would have its best chance with the current administration. But if there’s no chance of legislation making it through Congress before the change of administrations, the pressure for fast — perhaps even hasty — action is reduced.

When the proposal was announced Jan. 15 after 2 1/2 years of closed-door negotiations, some supporters said they hoped to have decisions from the stakeholders in a month or so. But there are many, many questions to be answered and at least some resistance to the plan.

Supporters were also feeling pressured by a state deadline on the adjudication of water rights, a process by which the state decides who gets how much water based on when the water rights were established. The process had been suspended, but the state says it will start it again in April. Those involved had hoped that resolving at least some of the issues through a settlement agreement would lessen the litigation likely to come once adjudication moves forward again.

This isn’t a time for snap judgments, and expecting to have things quickly was probably unrealistic. It was also disappointing to have local legislators state Sen. Doug Whitsett and Rep. Bill Garrard so quick to criticize the proposal. Garrard did say, however, that he would support it if a majority of the Basin irrigators did.

For all of the questions that remain about it — and its reliance on taking out four PacifiCorp dams that PacifiCorp hasn’t agreed to yet — it’s still a watershed event to have so many interests agree on the future of the Klamath River. It’s not a time to move too hastily.

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