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Jeff M.
Democrat OR

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  • Nomination of Sarah R. Saldana to Be an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security

    by Senator Jeff Merkley

    Posted on 2014-12-16

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    MERKLEY. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senator from Ohio be allowed to speak directly after the conclusion of my remarks.



    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Klamath Basin Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, I rise today to address a key unfinished piece of business that is extremely important to the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon.

    The Klamath Basin Act has still not been enacted as of the close of this Congress. In that failure, Congress is missing a critical opportunity to put in place a locally developed solution to a longtime water dispute. This failure creates a substantial risk of catastrophic consequences for our ranching and farming families--risks that were entirely avoidable.

    Let me start by telling my colleagues what an amazing place Klamath Basin is. Klamath Basin is one of the natural wonders of the American West. It has one of the biggest salmon runs in the Pacific and part of one of the largest continuous blocks of wild rivers and wildlands on the Pacific coast. It is one of the most important migration points in the Pacific coast flyway for bird migration. It is an important place for duck hunters up and down the west coast.

    The Klamath River itself charts a path to the south of Crater Lake-- an amazing natural wonder where a crater created by a very large cascade volcanic mountain that blew its top--and the California Redwoods to the south. It connects the Great Basin geology, the cascading volcanos, and the deep and majestic rivers and canyons along its way. Amidst this natural wonder, in its basin lies some of the most fertile and productive agricultural land in the northwest, generating $600 million a year in barley, potatoes, onions, mint, and, as we can see in this photo, beef.

    The settlement of the Klamath Basin by pioneers from the east and the subsequent development of farming and ranching in the Klamath Basin has a storied history. The first White explorer thought to enter the area was John Freeman, on his way to play a notorious role in taking control of California during the Mexican-American war. The first White settlers were the pioneering Applegate family, scouting an easier southern route for the final stages of the Oregon Trail. Agriculture was, of course, a major focus of settlement efforts, and even some of the more recently developed agricultural lands played into key moments in American history when part of the Klamath Reclamation Project was developed by the Federal Government and offered as homesteading opportunities to veterans returning from World War II.

    Of course, this region had a history long before settlers from the East came to it. It was already inhabited by Native communities who have lived in the Klamath Basin for 10,000 years and who have a deep connection to this amazing place. The Klamath and Modoc Tribes have inherited oral histories of the eruption of Mount Mazama 8,000 years ago, which formed today's Crater Lake. The tribes on the lower river in California--the Yurok, the Karuk, and the Hoopa--talked about having firepits in home sites still in use today that have been carbon-dated as being in human use many thousands of years ago. In the Klamath County Museum, there is on display the oldest sandals in the world that we have ever discovered made of sagebrush.

    The early history of settlement from the East led quickly to conflict. John Fremont's expedition led to a violent battle with the Klamath Tribes. The opening of the Applegate Trail through the basin led to conflict between the Modoc Tribes and White settlers along the Lost River. The resulting Modoc War--a dark chapter in our Nation's persecution of tribes--led to a standoff where the Army held a few dozen Modoc families under siege in barren, hostile lava beds for months.

    Unfortunately, for too much of recent history, conflict has continued to define the Klamath Basin.

    In the 1950s the Federal Government terminated Federal recognition of the Klamath Tribes, converting their 2 million-acre forested reservation into a combination of national forest lands and private lands.

    [[Page S6881]] In the 1970s conflict erupted between the lower river tribes and Federal fisheries managers of the tribes' rights to harvest fish they have harvested for thousands of years. Very soon after, farmers, ranchers, and tribes initiated litigation over water rights, and that litigation has been going intensely until very recently. On the one hand, tribes want to be assured of their rights to continue fishing practices they have passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. Farmers and ranchers want to be sure they will have the water they need to sustain the operations their families depend on for success.

    For decades the tension over water has been accentuated in times of drought, culminating most famously in a standoff in 2001 that made national news. During that 2001 drought irrigation water for the Klamath Reclamation Project was shut off to protect endangered fisheries. Thousands of people gathered in Klamath Falls in sympathy with the farmers. There was civil disobedience, and people were worried about the possibility of violence.

    When Vice President Cheney intervened and guaranteed water deliveries rather than fish protections, the result was the largest fish kill in U.S. history. Meanwhile, agriculture was damaged. Families saw major losses, and some had to sell their farms. There were no real winners.

    At the time, many people thought that these issues were intractable and that the arguments and lawsuits would continue interminably, perhaps for generations to come. But a number of years ago a group of leaders in the community had the boldness to start rethinking how they framed their quest for water and the water wars. Their briefing to me was one of the first briefings I received as a U.S. Senator. I was surprised to see individuals representing parts of the community who had often been bitter enemies together. They were talking about sitting down and hammering out a different vision for the future to replace the lose-lose water battles of the past with something different: greater reliability of water for farmers and ranchers and protection for the tribes and their fishing rights and better health for the stream. We had leaders from many different parts of the community sitting down together because--they said to me: Senator, the only folks who are winning right now are the lawyers. They wanted to change that.

    I was skeptical that groups who had battled for so long could sit down and work out an agreement. As we say in the West, whiskey, that is for drinking, and water, that is for fighting. But these folks said: We are going to pursue a different path.

    I pledged that if they were able to develop a solution, I would do everything I could at the Federal level to help implement it. They defied the expectation of every cynic by coming up with a remarkable plan that solved an array of complex problems. The irrigators committed to reducing the total amount of water they take from the river from a variety of conservation practices. They are working collaboratively with the community and the tribes to restore habitat. In exchange, they get certainty and predictability for guaranteed amounts of water. The tribes and conservation groups and fishing organizations agreed to stop challenging these irrigators' water allocations. In exchange, they get a community partnering to restore natural resources that are of cultural and economic importance to the tribes and to help them reacquire some of the land they lost 50 years ago.

    Complementing all of this and augmenting the natural resource restoration is a plan to remove four antiquated dams and open up new habitat for fish. The private utility that owns these dams agrees that the best business decision is to remove these dams. So this is a win- win situation, or actually a win-win-win-win situation.

    Let me give an example of this in terms of water looked at from the perspective of the agricultural community. This chart shows, over a variety of years--2010 through 2014--what the actual deliveries were in acre-feet, thousands of acre-feet, 189,000 acre-feet, and what they would receive in the settlement: substantially more; substantially more in 2011 and substantially more in 2013. So this also provides more water for the refuge, and we can see a change of positive water for the refuge as well.

    This is why everyone is coming to the table and finding a path that works better during difficult times for all of the major goals of water management in the region.

    The deal is a lifeline for farming and for ranching: tens of thousands of additional acre-feet added and in some cases 100,000 acre- feet of water in some areas; at the same time, stream flows for fish, removing obstacles for migration of the fish, improving habitat. It is a truly remarkable deal.

    Community leaders not only developed a visionary agreement, they also remained dedicated to this agreement during some difficult drought years in 2010 and 2013 and low water in 2014. So they could have been shattered, the coalition could have been blown up by these difficult drought years, but instead they viewed it as reinforcing why they needed to come to an agreement to save the ranching and the farming and improve the fish and restore important provisions for the tribes. They have continued to work together while we here in Congress have not acted. Also, they worked on an additional agreement to bring in additional ranchers from the upper basin into the agreement, and that worked as well. They worked to dramatically reduce the cost of the habitat restoration investments that the original plan called for. They drafted a bill with no new spending. The entire agreement was challenged by the litigation of the water rights in that the adjudication of these water rights was finally completed and, for the most part, the Klamath tribes were awarded water rights to time immemorial.

    That is a powerful tool. The tribes could have walked away from the table. They could have taken this enormous control over water rights and said the agreement hasn't been implemented; we are walking away and going to use these water rights with maximum leverage.

    They created partnerships. They pledged to work together, as all of these groups have, advocating not just for themselves but for the collective future of the community and collective stakeholders.

    Quite frankly, this is a remarkable development in what is happening with all of these stakeholder leaders sticking together. Congress is key, however, to passing legislation that implements the provisions of this plan.

    It is time for Congress to act. The Senate did its work. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee held hearings under the leadership first of Senator Wyden and Senator Murkowski, then under the leadership of Senator Landrieu and Senator Murkowski. Senator Murkowski, Senator Wyden, and I were able to negotiate bipartisan revisions of the bill addressing significant and legitimate concerns that had been raised.

    We modified Federal authority related to dam removal and requiring Governors to sign off and giving Congress a 1-year period to veto a decision to take out a particular dam. We removed provisions that the Congressional Budget Office said might contribute to the deficit. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted the bill out of committee on a bipartisan basis.

    The community leaders have gone to work getting even broader statements of support. The Klamath County Chamber of Commerce endorsed the bill. The Klamath County Farm Bureau has endorsed the bill. The Klamath County Cattlemen's Association and the statewide Oregon Cattlemen's Association have endorsed the bill. The Klamath Falls City Council has endorsed the bill, and the Oregon Water Resources Congress has endorsed the bill.

    The Senate has been ready to act, but the U.S. House of Representatives has not. Here we are in the last days of this Congress unable to complete this bill. So today I am calling upon our leaders in the House and in the Senate to work together to make this an item of immediate action when we start our new session in January.

    The tribe is held back on enforcing its water rights, and the stakeholders have stayed together, saying they were [[Page S6882]] going to support the multiple provisions for themselves and their partners. But that cannot last forever. Congress has to act to seal the deal. Without cooperation, this vision, so carefully, diligently, and painfully constructed over years of involvement of community stakeholders, will fall apart. What that will do is put the entire farming and ranching community in great jeopardy. We can see hundreds of families lose their water in a matter of months due to Congress's failure to act.

    This community has done everything right. They have put aside longstanding tensions and conflicts. They sat down time and time again to work out these complicated provisions. They sought the help of the Interior Department which came and signed off on the agreement. They sought the State government and the Governor to sign off on the agreements. They solicited local support. They put aside damaging rhetoric during times of intense drought over the last couple of years, and they hung together. They have done everything we could have ever asked a group to do to prepare for this legislation to be passed, yet it has not been passed because the House of Representatives has not been ready to act.

    We must not let this opportunity escape. We must come back in January with support from the Senate and from the House and complete this deal. This opportunity might not come again.

    I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to recognize that when in a region great work has been done to resolve a longstanding conflict, they need Congress to step in and seal the deal, make the agreement real, and implement the agreement. We must give it the utmost attention and help make it happen for the health of the stream, for the welfare of the tribes, for the success of the farming community, for the conditions that make ranching a vital component of the Klamath Basin--for all of these reasons.

    I certainly pledge to come back and work toward that end and look forward for us early next year to not be here on the floor lamenting the fact we have failed to complete this agreement but to be here thanking all of those who came together to seize this critical opportunity.

    I yield the floor to my colleague from Ohio.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Ohio.

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