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Study says Racism, Lack of Leadership Prevent Solutions to Oregon Water Dispute

by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
Environmental News Network, December 21, 2001

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore.-- University scientists offered a draft report this week on area water wars, saying a lack of leadership and an undercurrent of racism were blocking solutions.

The report was conceived last July after protests broke out over the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decision to shut off irrigation water to about 90 percent of the 200,000-acre Klamath Project irrigation system. The water was conserved for endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened salmon in the Klamath River.

A team of faculty from Oregon State University, the University of California at Davis, and the University of California at Berkeley produced the draft. The writers of the report hope to issue a final version in March.

Researchers identified a lack of "visionary leadership" to craft solutions, frustration based on uncertainty over future irrigation deliveries, and an undercurrent of racist attitudes toward Native Americans who belong to the Klamath Tribes.

The Klamath Tribes consider the endangered Lost River sucker and shortnosed sucker to be sacred and have pressed for efforts to protect them. Maintaining higher water levels in Upper Klamath Lake, where the fish live, was a factor in the decision to shut off water to farms.

The report calculated the overall impact of the water shutoff throughout the Klamath Basin economy at $134 million.

Local estimates of agricultural losses last summer from the irrigation cutbacks were put at $250 million, and Congress appropriated $100 million in emergency aid to Klamath Project farmers.

Farmers objected to suggestions in the report that the economic losses could be drastically reduced in drought years if water was allocated to lands that produce the most valuable crops, rather than shared equally.

"It's a complex problem, but there's a simple solution. Water has got to go back to the family farm," said Rob Crawford, a farmer in Tulelake, Calif.

Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
Study says Racism, Lack of Leadership Prevent Solutions to Oregon Water Dispute
Environmental News Network, December 21, 2001

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