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Kitzhaber Warns Columbia could Mirror Klamath Crisis

by Dave Hogan
The Oregonian, August 17, 2001

The same competing demands for water that caused the Klamath Basin crisis could trigger a similar but much larger collapse in the Columbia River Basin if those conflicts aren't resolved, Gov. John Kitzhaber said Thursday.

"The Klamath Basin is just the tip of the iceberg," Kitzhaber said. "We're going to see this over and over and over again in the West. And if nothing changes, we're headed for the same future right here in the Columbia Basin -- an environmental crisis, an economic crisis and a community crisis -- similar to what is playing out in the Klamath but on a much larger scale."

The Democratic governor made his comments during a speech to about 150 people attending Trout Unlimited's national convention at the Columbia River Doubletree Hotel at Jantzen Beach.

Kitzhaber told the conservation group that the Klamath illustrates a mounting problem for many Western river basins: Decades of increasing demands and other problems that were inadequately addressed by officials have led to water supplies that cannot meet the competing demands.

In the midst of the worst drought in the Klamath Basin's history, federal officials have shut off irrigation water to protect endangered fish.

Farms that sprouted after a 1905 federal irrigation project, national wildlife refuges and the area's tribes have competed for the basin's water. Signs of trouble have included Endangered Species Act listings for Lost River and shortnose suckers in 1988 and coho salmon in 1997.

"For over a decade, we have been talking about the competing demands for the water in the Klamath Basin -- talking, but not acting," Kitzhaber said. "And no one, from the irrigators to the tribes to the environmental community, was willing to concede any part of their claim to try to work out a compromise solution."

And, he said, "it is a situation that was avoidable had we acted a decade ago."

The Columbia River could face similar trouble, Kitzhaber said. The construction of hydroelectric dams fueled the region's economic growth but has had an "absolutely devastating effect" on the river and the fish and wildlife that depend on it, he said.

Dave Hogan
Kitzhaber Warns Columbia could Mirror Klamath Crisis
The Oregonian, August 17, 2001

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