Conservancy has key part of Basin water puzzle

January 20, 2003

By Rich McIntyre

Herald and News Op/Ed

Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon 97601

To submit a Letter to the Editor:

The momentous events of the past two years have seen the water crisis in the Klamath Basin slide on and off the national radar screen.

While our country has struggled to redefine itself in the wake of 9/11 -- parties trying to solve the problems of our Basin have likewise had to reexamine the way the problem will be solved.

The American Land Conservancy made the commitment to being part of the solution in 1992 with the purchase of the Wood River Ranch.

In response to a 1999 request from Klamath Reclamation Project farmers to assist them in finding a way out of the mess created by the federal government, the Conservancy forwarded a three-point plan that involves increasing supply, decreasing demand and cleaning up the water entering the Klamath River.

During the last three years, we have forwarded various plans to achieve that objective.

In a letter published in the Herald and News last summer, the American Land Conservancy stated its desire to work with agriculture to come up with a solution for everyone.

We said we would unilaterally change the tone of the debate, and we have done so.

We asked the Klamath Basin Water Users and other Basin agricultural groups to put aside suspicion and talk with us.

While that success is not complete, we now have good communication with the Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation districts, the Klamath Water Users Association, Upper Basin ranchers and many individual Project farmers not part of the Conservancy program.

Harry Truman once said, "I never gave people hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."

The American Land Conservancy has pointed out to the press that the problems of the lower river are not, as is often portrayed, entirely or even mostly -- the fault of the Klamath Project (can you say "Trinity River?").

We have angered some by pointing out that the problems in the Klamath are not simplistic, and infuriated others by stating that the Bush administration did not cause the basic problem. We live in a complex system, and those who seek to simplify it by placing blame on one party or group simply do not understand the issues.

Through all of this, we have listened and we have learned. Input by farmers and ranchers on our draft proposals has allowed us to alter them to better fit with agricultural realities on the ground. We are indebted to these people, and hope that others will see the wisdom of talking. That perspective is about to pay dividends for the Klamath Basin.

The congressional delegation, in its June 2002 letter to the president, requested funding for acquisition of a key ranch in the Upper Basin, that would allow the storage of more then 45,000 acre-feet of water.

This property can be the cornerstone of enhanced water supply for Basin farmers, tribes, and wildlife. It can have a fundamental effect on irrigation water for the 2003 growing season, provide important Endangered Species Act species habitat and start the move towards certainty for sustainable agriculture.

The American Land Conservancy is pleased to announce that, following extensive effort, we have secured a sale option on that property. It is a winner for everyone, and represents the culmination of two years of effort by the Conservancy.

This is just the beginning. The Conservancy is working on other important storage projects, water forbearance programs and water quality improvement projects that will be key pieces of the puzzle.

At the same time, we intend to work with anyone in agriculture who is willing to provide us with their perspective and suggestions. We are forming alliances with business interests and others to forward the triad of the American Land Conservancy program, while concurrently respecting the tribal and agricultural heritage of the basin.

Along with Nature Conservancy, the American Land Conservancy is the only conservation organization working on the ground with local interests in the Klamath. That is not happenstance. Our commitment to the Klamath Basin is more than a decade old, and is increasing. The challenge is huge, but so are the opportunities. We intend to be here until the problem is solved, and we intend to work with the Basin community, not against it.

Rich McIntyre is Oregon Coordinator for the American Land Conservancy and lives in the Klamath Basin.