Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Published Feb. 8, 2004
Oregon, California governors send representatives to join Basin research conference
By DYLAN DARLING
The governors of California and Oregon both sent high-level officials to the Klamath Basin to learn about water issues last week.
Coming from California were Mike Chrisman, secretary for resources, and Jim Branham, undersecretary for the state's Environmental Protection Agency.
Representing Oregon was David Van't Hof, sustainability policy advisor to Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
They joined about 150 scientists and agency managers who had gathered for a four-day conference to discuss ongoing research in the Klamath Basin.
The conference was convened to help coordinate the science that supports frequently controversial management decisions regarding water that is shared by farmers, endangered species, power companies and recreationists.
Among the most controversial decisions was the one that suspended delivery of irrigation water in the Klamath Reclamation Project in 2001 in order to protect threatened salmon and endangered suckers.
"We want to try to avoid those crises we've been in," said Chrisman, who was appointed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to advise him on the state's natural, historical and cultural resources.
Chrisman oversees a budget of $4.1 million for 24 state departments.
Kulongoski appointed David Van't Hof to his position, which is a new one, on Dec. 19. Before that Van't Hof served in Kulongoski's natural resources office as a policy adviser on water, land use and energy.
Chrisman said the governors of Oregon and California want their administrations to work with federal agencies to seek solutions for the Basin.
Branham said he and Chrisman have dealt with situation likes the one in the Basin before, and they wanted to become acquainted with its particulars by making a visit. He said it is important for the California officials to work with their Oregon counterparts because, while the Klamath River flows mostly through California, most of its water comes from Oregon.
"We manage what we are left with," he said.
During their time in the Basin, the officials met with leaders of the Karuk and Klamath tribes for breakfast, members of the Klamath Water Users Association for lunch and, in between, sat in for the wrap-up meeting of a science conference that was held at the Shilo Inn last week. They also toured the A Canal headgates and took a flight over the Klamath River.
But the officials' visit wasn't the first time that leaders from the neighboring states talked about the Klamath issue, said Arthur Baggett, chairman of the California Water Resources Board.
"We've been talking for about a year and a half," he said.
He said they are trying to come up with an agreement that will help all parts of the Basin.
Baggett said crafting a solution will take cooperation from all sides.
"It is up to all of us - the stakeholder groups and regulators," Baggett said.
Steve Thompson, Fish and Wildlife Service regional director, said there is now a window open for a solution in the Basin.
Thompson said groups are lucky to get an hour of a secretary's time, and those in the Basin got a day and a half.
"We'll see what the next step is," he said. "For me, I want to see some action on the ground that makes a difference."
He said he was sharing a flight with the California officials on the way back and wanted to talk to them more about Klamath issues on the plane.
Dan Keppen, water users executive director, said the visit could be the start of the two states working together with the federal government to provide leadership for the stakeholders.
"There is an opportunity to put all the pieces together and solve the puzzle," he said.
Reporter Dylan Darling covers natural resources. He can be reached at 885-4471, (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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