If you have driven around the Klamath Basin within the past year you have most likely seen those yellow sign with black letters with the following equation: KBRA = Jobs! For those not in the know, KBRA stands for the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. According to a KBRA website,
“The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is a settlement agreement among residents of the Klamath Basin that creates a solid path forward on long-standing, stalemated resource disputes in the region.”
The main resource disputed is water — who gets it, how much and when. In a wet year, like 2011, water disputes are all but gone. However, during a dry year like last year and 2001:
- Farmers sweat bullets hoping the irrigation system they are a part of will supply enough water for their crops and livestock.
- Fishermen at the end of the Klamath river wonder if enough water will show up to encourage salmon to swim upstream
- Native Americans worry about enough fish for their tribal rituals.
It's a big, ugly mess. The proponents of KBRA say they sat down with each of the stakeholders promising something to each, in return for getting something. The hope is the KBRA is something everyone can live with and therefore end the threat of litigation and provide predictability in water supply year over year. Famers get enough water. Fishermen they get enough water. Native Americans get water for fish and also land. All sides agree to give up litigation rights in exchange for something they want.
While this is a nice idea, it's a political solution to a resource problem — and political solutions rarely work. The real issue is water. And this agreement doesn't do one thing to create another drop of it. The KBRA inherently assumes there is enough water now, but that it's an allocation problem. The KBRA intends to fix that “misdistribution”. However, in a drought year that assertion just isn't true. The real issue is during a dry year there is just not enough water, period. During a dry year, no agreement is going to water fields and provide enough water downstream for fish. This is a major flaw in the agreement, as its solution to a dry year is shared suffering for all. Ask any farmer or fisherman: they can't just sit a dry year out. By the way, since fishermen and farmers are small business owners, they don't qualify for unemployment insurance. So if they don't work, they don't get have money to live on.
KBRA claims to be a grassroots movement: from the people, by the people. However, the KBRA document was crafted in private, back-room deals with different groups. There was no transparency. Ask anyone involved who wrote it and you'll get a shifty answer that does anything but answer the question. While the document has good intentions, that doesn't mean a secretly written document is the right solution for our water problems.
KBRA Solution — a political compromise. It does not address how to create more water supply during a dry year.
Conservative Solution — create more supply through saving/storing excess water during wet years to be used during dry ones. A self-sustaining solution that eliminates the need for bureaucrats and attorneys.
The conservative answer to this problem is simple, but takes discipline: find or create extra storage for water during wet years so that in dry years the "saved" water can be used from the reserves. Again, a simple solution, but difficult because it will take years to do and it won't be easy. (Think if we had started this idea back in 2001, we would most likely have our own ample supply of water ready for the next dry year.) Another hurdle is building water storage doesn't give control to political forces so bureaucrats aren't too eager to sign on. Yet this is the conservative solution: save water in flush years to be used during sparse ones.
Next time you drive past the Williamson River, Upper Klamath Lake, the Link River or Lost River (to name just a few) notice how high all are in mid-July. Such a shame we can't save this excess water for the next dry year — which we all know will come, it's just a matter of time.