Klamath needs stability



For the Capital Press

My family has ranched in the Wood River Valley of Oregon's Upper Klamath Basin (Fort Klamath) for 50 years. We also graze half the year at our ranch in El Dorado County, Calif., where our family has ranched for over 150 years.

We do not intend to change our way of life. I helped form the Upper Klamath Water Users Association several years ag to protect farmers' and ranchers' access to reliable irrigation water, protect them from regulatory burdens and help them manage skyrocketing power costs.

We work with the Klamath Settlement Agreements to try to shape our future.

To my amazement state Sen. Doug Whitsett and local anti-settlement irrigators like Tom Mallams and Roger Nicholsen now stand directly in the way of that goal. Their preference for unsuccessful litigation and the spread of fear of what "might" happen is in the way of my goal to continue to ranch and leave a clear path for my grandchildren.

Nicholsen, Whitsett and Mallams have told irrigators in the Wood, Williamson and Sprague River valleys repeatedly to oppose the Klamath Settlement Agreements because we should "focus on adjudication because only that will provide clarity."

Well, this week we got a good taste of clarity.

We learned that the Klamath Tribes will gain most of the water they have claimed for fish and rivers from a proposed order handed down in the Klamath Adjudication. Satisfying the tribes' water rights, with their senior priority date of time immemorial will likely send a crushing blow to our irrigators.

Opposition to the settlement agreements spun the view that we just needed to focus our efforts on "litigation" in the Klamath Adjudication. That approach has failed.

Our organization -- Upper Klamath Water Users Association -- has advocated for a settlement pathway with the tribes for years, regardless of the potential outcomes in the adjudication. Relying on blunt priority dates will clarify who wins and who doesn't, but it won't deliver what ranching families need: reliable water.

The Upper Basin needs a way to manage water that doesn't destroy our community. Adjudication just creates winners and losers, not stability.

Through settlements, each side gives, but all gain.

We now have less than one year before a final order is out in the adjudication and the Oregon Water Resources Department will begin enforcing the tribes' water rights. We have to use this time to finish the settlement talks UKWUA started with the Klamath Tribes, over misguided opposition.

I won't sit back and watch my community implode. I'm coming from reality. The reality of Indian water rights, the reality of private property ownership, and the reality of balancing competing interests to protect my interest: agriculture.

The proposed order in the adjudication is a painful slap of reality. Elected officials like Whitsett need to wake up. Off-project irrigators who want to destroy our economy by keeping their head in the sand need to get out of the way of those of us who plan to continue to farm and ranch in the Klamath Basin.

Cheri Bacchi Little, 56, is a fourth-generation cattle rancher from Fort Klamath. She is a board member of the Upper Klamath Water Users Association.

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