Sunday, December 6, 2015

Klamath Politics Tests KBRA Friendship Bonds

Those who pay attention to Klamath River Basin issues are by now very familiar with claims that former Klamath adversaries - Farmers, Tribes, Fishermen and Environmentalists - have overcome former conflicts, forged friendships and now support each other. Five years after the KBRA Water Deal was signed, those claims are still being made, not just by the "parties" that signed the Deal but by politicians, newspaper editors and a host of fellow travelers. A recent announcement by the Yurok Tribe, one of the KBRA's main architects, stating that it was withdrawing from the Deal because it was no longer possible to obtain the benefits for the Klamath River it had negotiated, has not stemmed the rhetorical claims that harmony now reigns among the Basin's tribes and irrigators.

That will not be surprising to those who have studied over 30 western water deals involving federal tribes which have been ratified and funded by Congress since the late 1980s.  Every one of those deals has been heralded as "historic"; both the deals and those making them have received lavish praise from federal irrigators, governors, newspaper editors, the media generally and by the federal officials who funded the negotiations and helped craft the deals. 

Local, state and federal establishments heap praise on these deals not because they end conflict over water which, contrary to the claims, they never accomplish for very long, but because, in the face of tribal water rights that could reallocate a good part of the West's water to tribal and instream uses, the deals keep most of the water with white irrigators in general and with federal irrigators in particular.

The KBRA is no different in that respect from any of the other hundred or so tribal water deals which have either been endorsed by Congress, are awaiting Congressional action or are currently being negotiated.

Friendship tested

Numerous testimonials over the five years since the KBRA was signed, as well as two films, dwell on the respect and friendship which grew up among tribal and agricultural leaders who negotiated the KBRA Water Deal. Ag and tribal leaders have claimed again and again that, as good neighbors should, they now look out for each others interests. Until recently, however, those assertions have been untested.

Now comes, in quick succession, a call by Oregon Governor Kate Brown to jettison Klamath dam removal (a key "benefit" of the KBRA for signatory or "party" tribes) and draft legislation by Oregon Representative Greg Walden which does just what Governor Brown called for. Brown's letter is straightforward: she wants the water supply "certainty" and the many other benefits the KBRA delivers to federal irrigators and she is ready to jettison dam removal to get what the irrigators want. 

 Iron Gate, lowest of PacifiCorp's five Klamath River Dams. For the 
three federal "party" tribes, removal of four of the dams is a key part of  the 
Klamath Deals. The fifth dam, Keno, would be transfered to federal ownership

Greg Walden's draft Klamath Bill not only jettisons dam removal but would turn over 200,000 acres of national forest land to Siskiyou and Klamath County Governments which want to bring back the good-old days of unlimited clearcutting.  Democrats consider the public land giveaway a "poison pill" which they can not support; in their press release, the Karuk Tribe also railed against Walden's draft legislation.

While press releases for and against Walden's Klamath legislation have been flying, the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), which represents the Basin's federal Irrigation Elite, and the closely allied Family Farm Alliance have so far been silent on Walden's draft. That is unusual. Both organizations have well paid staffs who are highly skilled in the art of the press release. Typically these two organizations are among the first to get their spin on Klamath developments delivered to media outlets.

 Now Executive Director of the Family Farm Alliance, Dan Keppen was a  major 
architect of the KBRA Water Deal while he served as Executive Director of KWUA. 

What explains the unusual silence of the Irrigation Elite in the face of Walden's draft legislation?

Walden's legislation presents a dilemma for the Klamath's federal irrigators and their organizational instruments - KWUA and the Family Farm Alliance. It gives the irrigators what they most want: the certainty that tribal water rights will not impact their ability to irrigate 200,000 acres of reclaimed lake bottoms and semi-dessert; but it throws the deal they made with their new friends in the Karuk and Yurok Tribes under the bus.

Does the Irrigation Elite's silence indicates that they have given Walden's draft the green light in order to get what they want? Are federal irrigation interests willing to abandon the relationships they have spoken about so often and passionately and which two films, countless news features and an impressive stream of editorials from the New York Times down to the tiniest newspapers have heralded as a model for how to deal with contentious water issues in the increasingly water-challenged American West?

The true test of  any relationship is what those in it do when the going gets tough. Clearly, the Yurok and Karuk Tribe's believe they are deeply wronged by Governor Kate Brown and Congressman Greg Walden. Will the federal irrigators who pledged unshakable bonds of friendship stand with them publicly? Or, as KlamBlog suspected from the start, was all the talk about good will and unshakable friendship just a sham show for the media?

KlamBlog challenges the Klamath Water Users Association and the Family Farm Alliance to take a public position on Walden 's draft legislation. We challenge those reporting on Klamath issues to put the question directly to the two organizations: Do they support Walden's draft legislation or do they stand with the tribes in opposition?

1 comment:

David and Michelle Ochoa said...

Many Klamath tribal members have been stonewalled and we are in opposition of the KBRA and S 133. It is unfortunate that our leaders have thrown us under the bus, and refused to allow our participation under our Bylaws and Constitution to participate in our own governance. Much of what has been reported by the Klamath Tribal Council to public news was not only never approved or agreed by our members, but our opposition has been censored. We are ashamed of the actions of few people to bring detriment to the rights of our people, our environment and generations to come.