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Klamath Tribes Comment on Water Release

by Lee Juillerat
Capital Press - April 5, 2002

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. -- Leaders of the Klamath Tribes believe there are lessons to be learned from the Klamath Basin water crisis, and offer perspectives on decisions stemming from last week's reopening of the A Canal to provide water to irrigators.

Bud Ullman, water attorney for the Chiloquin, Ore.-based Klamath Tribes, said those lessons included a sense of suffering not experienced by many non-Indians.

"We should have learned that there's a community that's been suffering much longer than the agricultural community suffered in 2001, namely the tribal community whose fishery has been closed for 16 years and will remain closed as farmers return to their plows this spring," Ullman said.

"We should have learned that Upper Klamath Lake is the most polluted lake in Oregon and that it has values in addition to its significance to irrigation water supply; there will be conflict in the basin until these other values are respected and pollution and fishery problems are dealt with.

"We should have learned that no single water interest will be able to get everything it wants at the expense of all other legitimate interests. Maneuvers in the courts, Congress and the state Legislature won't vindicate on interest over all others. Interest are going to have to work together to get what they need.

"We should have learned that there' no simple solution or magic bullet to resolve the complex of water issues in the basin. A comprehensive solution is going to be required because of the interrelate nature of water-dependent communities."

Allen Foreman, the tribes chairman, largely echoed Ullman. He said tribal fisheries were closed in 1986 because sucker fish were declining at an alarming rate, leading to their being listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1988.

"We're happy for the people who are getting water," Foreman said. "But while the headgates are opening and farmers are returning to their fields, our fisheries remains closed and our livelihoods compromised. Justice will be served only when we and farmers can return to our livelihoods."

Foreman said he's pleased Interior Secretary Gale Norton has opened talks with the Klamath Tribes to resolve land and water issues. The talks will include resolution of tribal water rights issues and the possible return of significant parts of the tribes' former reservation taken under the discredited "termination" policies of the 1950s.

"We're encouraged by Secretary Norton's commitment to deal with restoration of the tribes' livelihood with the same vigor she's shown project water users. Her recognition of tribal property rights and the U.S. obligation to respect them is commendable," Foreman said.

"The secretary will have the tribes' full cooperation in the complex and challenging work ahead."

by Lee Juillerat for the Capital Press
Klamath Tribes Comment on Water Release
Capital Press - April 5, 2002

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