ALI BAY, Capital Press
March 18, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. - After its first meeting March 8, the Klamath
River Basin Federal Working Group has detailed its plan to help
farmers and ranchers whose irrigation water was shut off last
Speaking to the media shortly after the Cabinet-level group
convened the first time since President George W. Bush assigned
the task force at the beginning of this month, Secretary of
Agriculture Ann Veneman said the meeting was productive.
“Farmers and ranchers have suffered economic hardship due to
the scarcity of water,” Veneman said. “President Bush has a
strong commitment to resolve issues in the region. The presence of
senior-level people there today shows we’re working toward that
The working group, with Interior Secretary Gale Norton as
chairman, committed $1.6 million of U.S. Department of Agriculture
funds to help accelerate irrigation water management, conserve
resources and protect wildlife. They also extended the sign-up
period for the Emergency Conservation Program through September so
farmers and ranchers can get financial help to obtain adequate
water for livestock.
Members of the Cabinet-level group will also begin 22 special
projects in the Wimena-Fremont National Forest to provide stream
improvements and the decommissioning of nearly 45 miles of road to
deal with water quality and other environmental concerns.
“We’re working very closely with other agencies to do
everything we can to help the area in the coming year,” Veneman
While the group developed a few short-term solutions at its
first meeting, Veneman said the task force’s goal is to deal
with bigger, long-term issues.
“Obviously there’s a need to protect fish, tribes and
farmers,” she said. “We need a win-win-win solution for all
Agricultural leaders said they’re optimistic about the
opportunities or solutions the new working groups might provide.
“I’m very hopeful this will provide some solutions,” said
Deb Crisp, executive director of the Tulelake Growers Association.
“I think it will give the agricultural community an opportunity
to participate at a high level and have input where we
Crisp said one of the reasons farmers and ranchers lost their
irrigation water last year was because their representatives
weren’t allowed to participate in the process with the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“I think input from the community is extremely important,”
Veneman said. “The working group talked about soliciting input
from farmers in the region. Certainly this administration believes
it’s extremely important to get community involvement.”
Dave Kranz, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau
Federation, said he’s pleased to see the Bush administration
giving the issue a high priority. He hopes the working group will
deal with the issue of avoiding a similar crisis in the future.
“The tendency has been to look at what fish need and not
worry about any of the people who happen to be in the way,” he
said. “There are ways to restore fisheries and maintain
agriculture at the same time. That’s what we should try to
Members of the working group include Veneman, Norton, Commerce
Secretary Don Evans and James Connaughton, chairman of the White
House Council on Environmental Quality. President Bush created the
task force March 1.
“We’re directed to do everything we can to provide water
quantity and quality to the growers in the Klamath Basin,”
But even as federal leaders say help, and maybe even solutions,
are on the way to Klamath, the community understands healing will
take a long time.
“This is something people are never going to forget,” Crisp
said. “It’s going to take some time for the agencies to
rebuild our trust.”