At either end of the Klamath River, food producers support the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. All along the river, there are detractors.
Among the agreement’s most ambitious goals are the establishment of sustainable water and power supplies for irrigators, restoring fish habitats, and helping the Klamath Tribes acquire a parcel of private timberland known as the Mazama Tree Farm.
And maybe the biggest goal of all (all or most of the above is contingent on it) is the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, which would facilitate removal of four PacifiCorp-owned dams from the Klamath River.
For fishermen, resolution to water disputes could mean a consistent supply of salmon to harvest during their five-month season, said Dave Bitts, a commercial fisherman based in Eureka and the president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, which represents commercial fishermen along the West Coast.
“If we figure it out, we should be able to farm and fish for revenue,” Bitts said. “The KBRA is a big step toward that.”
Dan Chin, owner of Merrill-based Wong Potatoes, who farms 4,000 acres and has served on state and national agriculture boards, said he also supports the agreement as a way to ensure and stabilize water supply.
“We have enough worries as it is,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to worry about water issues year in and year out.”
But supporters face vocal opponents. Many of them are non-, part-time, or retired farmers or ranchers, and some are working producers.
Opponents generally say the agreement doesn’t offer protections against the Endangered Species Act, which they say is the main barrier to sustainable water supplies in the area. They question the power rate protection. And they don’t see the necessity of taking out working hydroelectric dams.
In the heart of Klamath River territory, livestock growers say they’re not really affected by potential dam removal, though Siskiyou County supervisors adamantly oppose it. While it could potentially impact rafting and fishing — the last semblance of a local economy in tiny river towns — food production wouldn’t suffer.
But they have neighbors whose lakefront property would be left high and dry; and the county would lose millions in property tax revenue.
Fishermen — commercial like Bitts and recreational like Chin — are confident a free-flowing river would result in healthier fish populations.
“Ultimately, if it’s going to work, it’s going to have to work for people on both ends of the river,” Bitts said, “not either end.”