We must act for ourselves in Klamath water debate (letter to editor)

July 13, 2003

By Mike Connelly


Eureka Times-Standard

930 Sixth Street

Eureka, CA 95501

707-441-0500 or Toll free 800-564-5630

Fax: 707-441-0501


To submit a Letter to the Editor: editor@times-standard.com

The federal government, including federal judges, will not and cannot fix our water problems.

Let me say that again, just so it's crystal clear:

The federal government, including federal judges, will not and cannot fix our water problems.

I'm tempted to just write that over and over again -- until my space here is taken up -- because apparently,

no matter how many times we have found ourselves in the situation we're in now,

no matter how many times administrations or agencies have failed us,

no matter how many times we've been disappointed,

we just keep going back, begging for more help, more favorable decisions, more money, more guidance, more everything.

We cry for them to save us -- in the very same breath [that] we blame them for putting us in this situation in the first place.

It reminds me of Bart Simpson, staring at the television set while his sister whacks him in the head. Every time he gets whacked, he just sits there, motionless, and says, "Ow. Quit it."

Whack! "Ow. Quit it."

Whack! "Ow. Quit it."

Over and over again, never taking his eyes off the screen, too entranced with the familiarity of his televised routine to even notice how easy it would be to change what's causing the pain in the side of his head.

It's a ridiculous and embarrassingly pathetic scene, and I know there are a lot of people who are starting to feel the same way about the water situation in the Klamath Basin.

Everyone knows the old saying about the elephant in the room that no one is willing to talk about. And everyone knows the story of the emperor strutting around in his birthday suit while all the sycophants trip over each other praising the beauty of his new clothes.

Well, the Klamath Basin is so jam-packed with giant elephants, naked emperors and tripping sycophants that it looks more like some kind of twisted pornographic three-ring circus than what it really is: a small community of hardworking people living in the middle of Paradise.

But there comes a time when you've got to set the beautiful lie aside and deal with the ugly truth.

Here's some news for you:

The building of the Klamath Project and the development of the basin's agricultural economy fundamentally transformed the way natural systems functioned in the basin, and not always for the better.

For all the good that development brought, there have been serious negative impacts on species, the natural systems that support them, and the human communities that depended on them.

We have a moral and practical responsibility to fix the problems we have caused.

Get that through your head, and get over the paranoid delusion that it's all just a conspiracy to take away your private property.

Here's some more news:

Restoring the commercial sucker and salmon fisheries to historic conditions will not provide economic security and self-sufficiency to the Native Americans of the Klamath watershed, or to the coastal commercial fishermen.

If the fisheries were restored, the very best they could hope for is to end up in the same situation as American farmers, going broke -- not for ecological reasons, but for economic ones -- stemming from the inability of local small-scale producers to compete against enormous and ruthless global corporations.

The sad thing is that some of their leaders know this, and are using the fish as a means to other ends.

Many people know this. No one will talk about it.

And one final news flash: Despite the public lamentations decrying the suffering of agricultural and tribal communities -- asserting the need for local self-determination -- there is only one thing that ultimately matters to the movers and shakers in Klamath natural resource politics:

Is the president a Republican, or is he a Democrat?

Whether it's the ag, the tribal, or the environmental leadership, up to this very day they have all behaved as if there is only one way to get anything done, and that is to prostrate yourself at the feet of the national political leadership or the federal judiciary, vying for power and money, betting the livelihoods of your constituencies on the whims of the bigwigs, using all their powers of self-delusion to ignore the likelihood that all the "progress" will come to naught in a short four years -- when the political pendulum swings the other way.

The defining conflict in the basin is not between interest or ethnic groups, but between rural, indigenous, small-scale communities and the large-scale economic and political machinery that has failed us -- and I mean all of us -- so many times.

We're the only ones who can change this, and we can only do it together, by working to improve things in the places where we live, by strengthening ourselves and our communities, and by protecting those communities from the power- and profit-hungry buzzards hovering above, waiting for their chance.

Mike Connelly, a Klamath Project irrigator who runs a cattle and hay ranch, is executive director of the Klamath Basin Ecosystem Foundation in Klamath Falls, Ore. He lives in Bonanza, Oregon.