OR governor says Klamath water crisis could hit Columbia River

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August 17, 2001 Kitzhaber says Klamath water crisis could hit Columbia River

PORTLAND, ORE. (AP) - Gov. John Kitzhaber says the water crisis in the Klamath Basin could have been predicted a decade ago, and warned Thursday of a similar breakdown in the Columbia River Basin if competing demands for water aren't resolved.

Ranchers, farmers, conservationists and Indian tribes have been fighting over scarce water in the Klamath Basin since April, when the government forced the shut-off of water to most farmland irrigated by the federal project that straddles the Oregon-California border.

"The Klamath Basin is just the tip of the iceberg," Kitzhaber told conservationists gathered in Portland. "If nothing changes, we are headed for the same future here in the Columbia River Basin - an environmental crisis, an economic crisis and a community crisis."

To stave off such a stalemate in the Columbia River basin, Kitzhaber said the aggressive - and expensive - recovery plan outlined by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the four northwestern governors last December must be implemented. The strategy focuses on restoring habitat and tributaries and estuaries, but doesn't rule out breaching four dams on the lower Snake River.

Kitzhaber also recommended a new regional governance model for the Columbia, giving local officials more input and control over the operation of the river.

Jeff Curtis, Trout Unlimited's western conservation director, said Kitzhaber is one of few elected officials who fully understands the complex issues in both regions.

Both regions are bound by the Endangered Species Act - legislation that resulted in growing concern over the impact of economic development on the environment.

Snake River chinook were listed as endangered in 1991, and since then, 12 species of salmon steelhead and bull trout in the Columbia River system have been added.

The shortnose sucker in Upper Klamath Lake, once a staple for tribes, was listed as endangered in 1988; coho salmon was listed in 1997.

Water has been held in reserve in the Upper Klamath Lake this summer to protect endangered species. Demand for water has far exceeded supply, and the current pattern of water allocation has failed to sustain 200,000 acres of farmland and several wildlife refuges in the basin.

"That this crisis happened should be a surprise to no one - because we all saw it coming," Kitzhaber said. "It is a situation that was avoidable had we acted a decade ago."

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has said that failure to come to some agreement by the end of October would make it difficult to offer any legislation in time to help farmers next year.

If action is not taken in the Columbia basin, Kitzhaber warned that the region will be left with no meaningful strategy to restore the health of the ecosystem, "edging closer to the fate suffered by the Klamath Basin."

The federal government established treaties with 13 Indian tribes along the Columbia River in the 1800s, reserving for them fishing and hunting rights on the basin.

But the construction of the Bonneville Dam in 1938 changed the character of the river. The 28 other dams constructed on the Columbia River system over the following 30 years have provided low-cost power to the region and irrigated agriculture.

"We build the entire northwestern economy on this," Kitzhaber said. "This is our source of power."

But the effects of the dams on salmon has been devastating, and conservation interests have been hit with one setback after another.

The governor acknowledged that it will not be easy to balance the needs of economy and environment in the Columbia River basin.

"With my time as governor drawing near, it is also tempting to simply say: I have no time for missions impossible," he said. "But I also know that these issues will not go away - and neither will I."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 18, 2001


Oregon has had a great surge in population in the last decade. This has added to this proplem greatly, but no one wants to talk about it. The subject of population growth has become the giant white elephant at the dinner party that everyone ignores. None of the shortages we are starting to experience can be addressed without this issue being discussed. We have limited resources, but unlimited population growth.

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), August 18, 2001.

K: Population growth? WHAT population growth? That's not population; that's customer base!


-- joj (jump@off.c), November 06, 2001.

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