Our Voice: Thumbs up to tribes and ranchers in Klamath Basin for fish, water pact

April 28, 2014 

Peace on the Klamath

To cattle ranchers and Native American tribes in Oregon's Upper Klamath Basin for reaching an agreement last week to share access to rivers and cooperate on restoring habitat for endangered fish.

As a model of cooperation, it's worth taking note of in the Mid-Columbia.

Representatives of the Klamath Tribes and ranchers came together for a signing ceremony along the Williamson River outside Chiloquin, Ore. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Gov. John Kitzhaber, and Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley also were present, The Associated Press reported.

Wyden said he would introduce legislation in the Senate next month based on the agreement.

It faces an uncertain future in the House, where Republicans have blocked two other agreements to improve assurances of irrigation for farmers along the Oregon-California border and to help the salmon that tribes hold sacred, according to the AP.

When competing factions can reach a consensus on public policy, elected officials should promote the effort. A negotiated deal is almost always the best resolution.

Ranchers and the tribes have been fighting a legal battle over water rights in the basin for 30 years. In 2001, when water tensions reached their peak, federal marshals were needed to enforce the shut-off of irrigation to most of the Klamath Reclamation Project, the AP reported.

If the tribes and ranchers want to put the lawsuits behind them and agree to share the water, the federal government ought to let them.

Cost of inaction

To state lawmakers for failing to pass a law that would tie standardized test scores to teacher evaluations, leading predictably to federal officials revoking Washington's waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements.

The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction received notification last week from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that the waiver wouldn't be extended.

The state had a waiver for two years, allowing the state to set up an alternative set of accountability requirements. But the federal government warned it would revoke the waiver unless state lawmakers required schools to tie standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.

Teachers fought against the requirement because evaluations based on standardized tests are unfair to teachers at schools with high levels of poverty and kids still learning English.

It's a legitimate point, but the federal government didn't dictate how the tests should be used, only that they be considered during evaluations. Local teacher unions should have negotiated fair ways to use the tests instead of working to block their use across the state.

Here's why: Loss of the federal exemption from NCLB requirements means Washington schools will have to shift about $40 million in federal money from classrooms to private tutors and other uses.

The Pasco School District alone will have to shift $1 million to pay for private tutors or other services with little local oversight; the Kennewick School District stands to lose control of $678,000 while Richland schools will lose about $300,000.

Washington is the first state to lose its waiver. That's a costly distinction.

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