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Walden's Klamath bill creates further divides

Greg Walden has to decide if he wants to make a difference in the Klamath Basin water negotiations or if he's satisfied offering up legislative non-starters. A draft water bill put forward by his congressional office last week suggests the latter.

Walden, Oregon's Second District congressman, earlier had trumpeted his "convening" of a joint session with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley. The Republican representative and Democratic senator were calling the meeting "to discuss a way forward," according to a Dec. 2 release from Walden's office. By Dec. 3, Merkley was distancing himself from Walden's plan.

And for good reason: Regardless of what you may think of the Walden draft, it was dead on arrival, a death that Walden had to know was coming. His proposal includes a plan to transfer 100,000 acres of federal timber lands to Klamath and Siskiyou counties and another 100,000 acres to the Klamath Tribes in exchange for the tribes waiving their senior water rights. It caps that by not including the removal of four dams on the Klamath River.

A statement from Merkley and fellow Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden was diplomatic, thanking Walden for releasing legislation. But it went on to say, "The giveaway of federal lands to counties is a known non-starter in the Senate. It also eliminates a provision on dam removal that is central to the bargain worked out over years with blood, sweat, and tears."

A tribal representative, Karuk Councilman Josh Saxon, was more direct: "If there is no dam deal, there is no damn deal."

Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry was also straight to the point on Walden's land-for-water proposal. "We are not relinquishing or waiving our water rights," Gentry said. (The fact that Walden would even raise that idea suggests he doesn't understand what the tribes are fighting for in this issue.)

Walden's plan largely ignores the "bargain" referred to by Merkley and Wyden — the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a plan that was agonizingly pushed forward toward a solution and that was ultimately signed off on by the tribes, irrigators, ranchers, environmentalists and Pacific Power, which operates the dams. No one is thrilled with the deal, because everyone has to give up something. That's called a compromise.

But we should not forget that Walden is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, possibly the most disfunctional governing body in congressional history. Just as Walden is forced to dance to the step of the tea party crowd in D.C., so, too, is he apparently at the beckon call of ultra-conservatives in Klamath County. ("You'll take my dam away from me when you pry it from my dead, cold fingers.")

In putting forth proposals that have no chance of survival, Walden can tell his constituents that he is taking action on an issue that has torn the Klamath Basin apart. In reality, unless he and his fellow GOP House members are willing to make significant concessions, this proposal will lead to more of the same — no deal and no peace.