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Oregon Editors Say:

Let's get to work This wet year is the perfect time to resolve the Klamath water dispute

The Oregonian

In the hot, tense summer of 2001, angry Klamath Basin farmers broke open an irrigation canal headgate that regulators had locked shut to protect endangered fish. After the protests made national news, Interior Secretary Gale Norton flew to Oregon and ordered the release of more water.

We hope that this will be viewed by everyone as taking care of the situation, she said during a stop in Portland.

Her action eased tensions, but did nothing to take care of the situation. It simply thrust the crisis downriver, where low water, warm temperatures and disease caused a massive fish kill in 2002.

As predicted, the die-off has had disastrous impact on Klamath River salmon runs. And now it's commercial fishermen and coastal communities feeling the pain. But there is hope for the industry in developments this week in Salem and Oakland, Calif.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski held an emergency summit Tuesday to mobilize state and federal agencies to provide relief for fishermen and their communities. He vowed to press U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, Norton's successor as interior secretary, to come to Oregon to discuss, among other things, how federal management decisions in the Klamath Basin affect salmon harvests off the West Coast.

— Kulongoski also ordered his staff to report by April 14 on steps the state can take to ease the economic hardship heading for Oregon's commercial fleet and coastal towns. This was appropriate, much-needed leadership, but the more far-reaching development was Monday's ruling by a federal judge in Oakland.

U.S. District Court Judge Saundra Armstrong told the federal government it must act immediately, not five years from now, to institute a Klamath River management plan. This is a major victory for fishing industry groups and bad news, at least on its face, for Klamath farmers. It means they could be deprived of irrigation if water levels plunge low enough to threaten coho salmon survival.

The court order couldn't have come at a more favorable time. Oregon's snowpack is enormous this year. So is California's. The Klamath Basin appears likely to have enough water this summer for both farms and fish.

What better year for a calm, reasoned discussion? Resolving competing needs once and for all in the basin will be extremely difficult, but as Monday's ruling makes clear, the work must begin now.

The survival of Klamath River salmon ' not to mention an entire industry that depends on them ' can't wait.