ONRC urges irrigators to sell out: Letter asks farmers to support buyouts

(Note: The enemy of the Klamath Basin has grown so brazen that it's actually sent an 8-page letter to the farmers, suggesting that they leave! Most farmers in the Basin did not need this personal attack in their mailboxes, and are outraged by it. The article -- conveniently -- didn't interview them.)

March 11, 2003

By Dylan Darling

ddarling@heraldandnews.com

Herald and News

P.O. Box 788

Klamath Falls, Oregon 97601-0320

541-885-4410

Fax: 541-883-4007

To submit a Letter to the Editor: heraldandnews@heraldandnews.com

The Oregon Natural Resources Council has a suggestion for the 1,400 or so farmers in the Klamath Reclamation Project:

Take the money and get out of farming.

The Portland-based environmental group -- that has filed numerous lawsuits to block or hinder farming in the Klamath Basin -- sent an eight-page letter to Project farmers last week urging them to support a federal buyout of farmland or water rights.

Reaction to the letter ranged from immediate dismissal to serious consideration.

In the letter, the ONRC outlines the troubles facing project water users, and then offers the solution of having Congress approve $730 million to $820 million to fund a buyout program of land and water rights in the Klamath project. The group wants the government to pay $4,000 an acre for land, or $2,500 per acre to buy out an irrigator's water rights.

To get congressional support the letter urges irrigators to write, call or e-mail their congressmen.

Jay Ward, ONRC conservation director, said his group decided to send a letter directly to irrigators because its opinions get distorted when they go through the media.

"We thought this would be a way to make sure that our message would be as clear as possible," he said.

And, he said, the message is that the ONRC is not interested in taking people off the land, rather it is interested in protecting habitat for endangered species and other wildlife.

But that's not how some irrigators see it.

"They are trying to get people out of farming," said David Solemn, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District. "They will do everything they can to put farmers out of business."

Most the irrigators who use KID water received the letter.

Solem said the Basin community wouldn't be the same without farming, and the local economy would take a dive if farmers sold their land and got out of the business.

He said the different groups interested in Klamath Project water -- from the Klamath Tribes to national wildlife refuges to irrigators -- need to work together on a solution.

"We need to get through this period where groups like the ONRC are tying to do everything they can to put you in such a bad state of affairs that you have no options," he said.

Options are what Jeanne Anderson, who with her husband farms 1,500 acres in California and raises cattle on 3,000 acres in Oregon, says farmers need -- with a land buyout being one of them.

"I think that there is going to have to be some compromise on the behalf of agriculture," she said.

Without a reduction in agricultural acres, she said the demand for project water will continue to be greater than its supply.

She said some people want to get out completely and a federal buyout of land or water rights would be a way for them to do so.

But a buyout program would only be part of the solution, Anderson said.

"There is not one program that will fit all," she said.

She said there needs to be a combination of efforts, like the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's water bank and conservation projects.

"They all ultimately reach the same goal -- they send water down the river," she said.

Like Solem, Dan Keppen wants to see the different interests work together and would welcome the ONRC at the table. But he said the group refuses to work with Basin groups and instead files lawsuits.

He said many of the problems outlined by the ONRC in the letter -- from the possible listing of the green sturgeon as endangered species to an evaluation of the quality of project water returned to the Klamath River - come from litigation the group is involved with.

"It's cruelly ironic that after spending (eight) pages describing the problems in the Basin, they fail to disclose that they are driving many problems themselves," he said.

Copyright 2003 Herald and News.

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