Senator Linthicum newsletter

Water is a commodity just like gold, silver, oil and gas. Historically, water has allowed our farmers, ranchers and fisherman to literally feed the world. Control the life-giving water and you have complete control over any community’s future.


Because I know how valuable water is to the prosperity and health of any community, I read with great sadness the news from last week about my home county of Klamath. Our water, the gift which allows our hard-working farmers and ranchers to create jobs, feed communities and carry on legacies of family-run agriculture, has become an invaluable tool in an idealogical war. This war pits the Tribes, environmental groups and government agencies against small farms and ranching families, and is, in my view, an attempt to acquire complete control of water and land usage.


On April 13, the Klamath Tribes, who have senior instream rights, notified the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) of a call for water priority on the Wood, Sprague, and Williamson Rivers and tributaries, including Upper Klamath Marsh. According to the the Treaty of 1864, the Tribes are within their rights to call for water for hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering on the former reservation land to the Klamath Tribes. This is a reasonable request and not one that I stand against. However, it is well-documented that this is a good-faith agreement – water must be a shared resource. So while the Tribes have a right to it, Klamath Basin landowners also have rights and a vested interest in the water, and its ecological impacts, so the Tribes and agriculture must work together to make positive change.


Instead, it seems clear that the Tribes simply want control. Riparian areas are thriving and current flows are off the charts, making any talk of drought or shortage simply ridiculous. There is more than enough water to go around this year and accomplish the important goals of each stake-holder.


One of the causes of this injustice is that the language used for describing water purposes is vague and subjective. This allows continual re-engineering of control over water resources, which is dangerous territory for the future of agriculture in the Klamath Basin. If the tribes can call water during one of the highest water years on record, it is quite obvious that their goal is not fishing, hunting or other heritage practices, but simply to control the water resources.


The local paper carried this report concerning the water call:


“There are two types of base flows, geologic and biologic,” said Diana Enright, an OWRD spokesperson.


“In this case, these are biologic base flows, which are estimated as a lower protective threshold that provide biologically necessary habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms.”


You might think, well, that’s the science so the conversation is over. But it is obvious to any casual observer that this data has been organized in a specific way, with a specific ideology in mind. We must use priorities when we look at science and data. Science is the work of questioning, not forgone conclusions. We must ask good questions when it comes to water priorities, flow, quality and conditions.


The information being disseminated to the public regarding the water flows in the Klamath Basin has been influenced by the prevailing environmental world-views of the data collectors and presenters. Is it possible that there may be other solutions, which allow generations of family farmers to continue feeding our communities and creating sustainable, local food sources for our children and grandchildren? Is it possible to value fish and other aquatic life while understanding that the agriculture of the Klamath Basin is an incomprehensible treasure that we should not throw away lightly?


Politicians realize that government power can be used to cajole the public into giving their minds over to the “experts who know best.” Look at how the war against CO2 is progressing, complete with threats of legislation for dairy cow flatulence. These semi-scientific springboards are the perfect means for capturing adherents through fear-mongering. Corralling the experts, funding their efforts, organizing their evidence and setting the agenda is the easiest pathway to political power.


It is clear that these “calls” on water, in such an abundant year for it, is a concerted effort to force a political worldview on the Klamath Basin.


These constraints are man-made and can be mitigated, changed or modified by people who sincerely desire to live and work together in community with each other.


It’s time to get back to the table and really talk to one another. While some ideologies may honestly believe that their worldview requires the death of an entire industry in Klamath County, I hope that is not the majority. I think that most of us sincerely want to see human flourishing and a healthy environment for our children and grandchildren. We want to know where our food comes from, share our water and celebrate our heritage, together, as a community. Our science must be careful, thoughtful and willing to question the norms. But in our pursuit of science, we cannot and should not be indifferent to our families, communities, tribes, farms, businesses, and the Basin’s economic activity.