Willie Riggs is the Oregon State University Regional Administrator for Klamath, Lake and Harney Counties and Director of the Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center. It’s a long job title, but one that reflects the wide scope of OSU Extension in the region.
He says working for a land grant university allows him to be a neutral third party within the community and help people and organizations to solve problems. In this part of Southern Oregon, water quantity and quality are the biggest issues.
“Klamath County has a natural-resources-based economy, and without water to support it, there’s a direct impact on the farmers and ranchers,” Riggs says. “And from there, it affects everybody.”
The area has a history of drought, along with decades of conflicts over water rights between conservationists, tribes, farmers, fishermen and state and federal agencies. The 2010 Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement — a comprehensive attempt to balance agricultural, environmental and community water needs — still needs Congressional funding to be fully implemented.
Riggs says the Research and Extension Center continues to collaborate with farmers, community members, legislators and other organizations to develop workable solutions to the area’s lack of water. One positive step forward is the Klamath Basin Decision Support System. Riggs helped develop this map-based tool that gives all stakeholders timely access to a common base of information on the water supply.
Meanwhile, Riggs, who also serves as an associate professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences, is proud of the impact Oregon State has made in the agriculture industry, particularly with the Klamath Basin farmers who supply grain for the country’s breads and pastas.
“It’s all about growing quality food products,” he says, “It’s a great feeling to be able to make sure kids and families are eating healthy food.”
Riggs was also instrumental in facilitating a degree partnership program with Klamath Community College in which KCC students can work toward an Oregon State bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences. Offered through Ecampus, the online degree program includes on-the-ground mentoring in Southern Oregon from OSU Extension and KCC faculty.
Online students can customize their Oregon State experience and curriculum while working full- or part-time jobs and taking care of their families. The goal is to keep these students in the Klamath Falls area, create jobs and boost the economy.
Riggs attributes this and other achievements to a spirit of collaboration.
“Working for the Research and Extension Center is all about building relationships,” he says. “Since we know so many people and organizations, we can bring them together to help solve problems like the water shortage, and if people have questions, we’re always here to answer them.”
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