Written Testimony of Tricia Hill on Klamath River Basin Conditions and Opportunities

On March 8th, 2022, 5th generation family farmer and former KWUA president, Tricia Hill, spoke on behalf of Klamath Basin agriculture in a virtual hearing for the Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife. Tricia’s powerful, verbal testimony and follow-up questions spoke to the ongoing drought and water crisis that is having an incredible impact on Klamath Basin communities as well as the wildlife that make their home here as well. As part of her testimony, Tricia Hill also submitted a written statement. Below is Hill’s written testimony in its entirety.

Statement of Tricia Hill, Farmer

Before the

Natural Resources Committee

Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife

U.S. House of Representatives

on

Klamath River Basin Conditions and Opportunities

Chairman Huffman, Ranking Member Bentz, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this hearing and for allowing me the honor of testifying.

My name is Tricia Hill.  I am appearing on behalf of the Klamath Water Users Association. 

I am blessed to work every day with my family and proud to be a fifth generation Klamath Basin Farmer.  I am a descendant of Czech immigrants that left the political chaos in Eastern Europe and founded a small town in Oregon called Malin.  My personal history is made up of remarkable women who farmed our basin and I had hoped my daughters would follow in their footsteps.  That hope is fading day-by-day due to bad policy and single species management that has benefitted no one.

Of course, we are mindful that we are “latecomers” to the area compared to the Native Americans tribes with whom we share the Basin.  There was a time our relationship with these neighbors was that of partnership and a shared vision of strong, healthy communities- tribal and agricultural.

Now, we deal with one another cautiously, rather than standing up for one another as we once did.  And so, in 2021 when no water was allocated to farmers or our local waterfowl, no one outside our small community seemed to care.

Winning has become the goal instead of actual success for our species and our communities.  As a member of the agricultural community, I will tell you we feel targeted and devalued.  We are struggling to explain to our children why raising food has become a thing to be ashamed of, why the promise in the KSHA by Federal, State and Tribal governments to address our agricultural communities’ needs have been forgotten. 

Once I might have come before you and cited all the economic reasons there are to protect and preserve our agricultural community.  I might have asked—especially in the face of the struggles in Ukraine and skyrocketing grain prices— how is public policy served by destroying a community that grows food?

But today I come before you not just as a farmer, but as a mother, a daughter.   Due to the dewatering of the land in my part of Klamath Basin, dust storms were a near constant last spring and early summer.   My daughter is an asthmatic and both my parents have heart conditions that are gravely affected by air quality. I hate that I must chide both my child and my parents to stay inside for days on end.

I come to you as a friend of my neighbors.  Last year, hundreds of domestic wells went dry, including the well of a close family friend.  She was six months pregnant with a two year-old at home and had no drinking water or a way to wash dishes.  

I come to you as a child of the Basin.  I grew up dancing under the sky-wide ‘v’ formations of geese and the evening love songs of frogs.  With no water on our farms and canals last year, tens of thousands of acres of habitat were lost- with them we lost my childhood friends.  Instead, our skies were empty, our nights silent. 

Last year, Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge went dry, again.  This year, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge will join it- going dry for the first time in history.  

In short, under the current application of the ESA in the Klamath there are no winners.  Only losers.  And I cannot convey how heartbreaking it is to watch our basin – from its people to its environment to its wildlife – crumble around me.  

We know fish populations and fish-based communities are hurting too.  We respect those communities’ and their very real concerns and values.  Commitments to dam removal and restoration funding signal to the tribal communities and environmental groups that their voices are heard.  As Ms. Cordalis mentioned in her written testimony, for them, hope is on the horizon. 

Our irrigation communities need hope.  Today we have none.  Although we sincerely appreciate the funding directed to producers in the basin, mitigation payment is not who we are.  We are farmers.  We grow things – children, crops and communities.  Although we appreciate the partial mitigation– the simple truth is we need water to support our communities. 

The purpose of this hearing is to identify opportunities.  By definition, opportunities are a situation, or set of circumstances, that makes it possible to do something.  So first, we must ask what is that something?  What are our goals?  

Once folks from the entire basin, up river and down, agreed our primary goal was strong, stable communities so we could pass our traditions and way of life to our children.  For some communities, this meant fish in the river and lake; for mine it meant crops in the ground.  But the point was that all communities, all people, had value.  

If that is still the goal, first we must recognize the necessity of an allocation of water to provide for basic human safety and community preservation, which includes water for irrigation and wildlife, to the Klamath Project.  If this need for agricultural communities and wildlife is not satisfied, we will soon simply cease to exist. This is the unfinished business of the KHSA.  

Second, we must acknowledge the operations plan controlling the Klamath Project is completely dysfunctional.  The go-to solution in the Klamath of regulating the Project is not not effective and it’s not fair.  Micromanaging every single drop of water in the Upper Klamath Basin is not only ridiculous, its lack of flexibility has created a failed system for listed species, farmers, and wildlife.  

Third, unless there is a broad-based, joint planning process addressing all of the goals and subgoals submitted in my written testimony, priorities for funding must go to projects that help in getting the most out of water- such as storage & irrigation efficiency- or that target actual bottlenecks for protected species- such as concentrating on sucker recruitment vs. spawning.  

Fourth, require accountability in restoration efforts.  Agricultural leaders are exhausted and frustrated from convincing our friends and neighbors that taking acres out of production, or creating a new wetland or  implementing a given restoration project will help to secure our communities’ future— only to see our allocation of water dwindle year after year, until it is literally nothing. 

Finally, we continue to believe long-term solutions for the Klamath lie in collaborative basin-wide planning.  Based on past experience, we believe this is best facilitated by a skilled person or small team to roll up their sleeves, become fully informed and understand the dynamics of the Klamath Basin.  This is not an ask for ‘top down” solution, but rather a recognition that solutions need hands-on, engaged, federal leadership.  Especially a person, or persons that are the point for all federal agencies.

KWUA supports Secretary Haaland’s identification of Elizabeth Klein to be that person. We also support and request that she oversee a day-to-day lieutenant or team that interacts with us on the ground on a continuous basin.

As a mother, a daughter, and a child of the Klamath, I hope that you and all stakeholders hear me when I say– We in the Klamath Project still believe in a shared future where all communities are successful.  Period.  We want to fight side by side with our neighbors to get there.  

We continue to stand with our neighbors in the basin and hope everyone can find and return to a place where they stand with us as well.