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Proposed groundwater drilling rule unsustainable

January 22, 2019

Klamath Falls Herald and News

Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) is gearing up to cripple the Klamath Tribes’ already limited ability to safeguard rivers, streams, springs and seeps in our treaty-protected homeland.

Sitting in the audience of a recent advisory committee meeting (a group of about 20 dominated by ranchers and farmers), I heard state employees announce that OWRD’s plan to reduce the tribes’ ability to “make calls” (stop agricultural irrigation) on wells within a mile of surface waters is to be reduced to a mere 500 feet. They went on to state that the reason for the change was to avoid burdensome litigation brought by irrigators.

With this change, the number of agricultural wells that the Klamath Tribes can prevent from harming life forms sustained by rivers and creeks — using our supposedly superior in-stream water right — will decrease by about 95 percent.

In other words, OWRD is planning to make critically important hydrological decisions with profound ecological consequences for overtly political and monetary reasons.

From a purely economic perspective, this is a smart decision. An alarming number of tribal members eke out a living near and below the federal poverty level.

By contrast, multi-million dollar agricultural estates owned by non-tribal people occupy the best sectors of reservation lands taken from the Klamath Tribes through a forced termination of our federal status. (Indeed tribal members struggle to find access to the rivers where our treaty with the United States says we are entitled to fish).

So if OWRD is betting that the agriculture industry in the upper basin has deeper pockets than its original inhabitants, that’s a good bet. But at what cost to the health of our beautiful sacred homeland?

We don’t have to look far to see the disastrous consequences of attempting to drill one’s way out of human-made environmental calamities brought on by unsustainable agricultural practices.

Parts of California’s San Joaqin Valley have sunk as much as 28 feet, including three feet in only the last two years, as agriculture continues to over pump deeply stressed groundwater supplies. Whole homelands have become wastelands. Domestic wells go dry. When the ravaging is complete, only the poor (often indigenous) peoples are left clinging to a tenuous existence.

Despite our serious differences, none of us living in the upper basin want to see the obvious consequences of California’s over drilling repeated here.

We the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin peoples love our homeland. We belong to it. When we tell you that the present course is unsustainable, we know what we are talking about.

Please listen.

Clay Dumont Jr.

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