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Talks continue over land, water swap

Published October 9, 2003


A high-level Interior Department official spent three days in the Klamath Basin last week, meeting with various parties to discuss water supplies for the Klamath Basin and restoration of reservation lands for the Klamath Tribes.

But his visit isn't a sign that any deals are being made, officials said.

Bill Bettenberg, director of the Interior Department's office of policy analysis, said he was in the Basin to give updates on negotiations with the Klamath Tribes and run through scenarios of different water management options for the Klamath Reclamation Project.

"I didn't come with any proposals," he said.

Bettenberg is involved in negotiations with the Klamath Tribes and also in negotiations with PacifiCorp on its relicensing of its hydroelectric project on the Klamath River.

Bettenberg said he wants to keep the different sides of the water issue posted because they all need to be involved for a workable solution.

He said the Interior Department is not going to cut any unilateral deals in the water issue. Any deal made with the Tribes needs to be supported by other interests in the Basin.

"At the end of the day, we have to have something where the water users, the Tribes and the broader community are all on board," he said.

In a recent Klamath Tribes' newsletter, chairman Allen Foreman said the Tribes are about a year away from a deal that would involve the Tribes getting more than 600,000 acres of public land for a reservation in exchange for the Tribes' senior water rights.

Sue Ellen Wooldridge, Interior Department Deputy Chief of Staff, said the government is in the "building stage" of a proposal, and is not ready to set the details of such a deal yet.

"There is, at this point, no concrete proposal. There has been lots of discussion and there will be a lot more," she said.

Wooldridge said Bettenberg has been meeting with the different sides to get feedback on various options.

"Our hope is, in the long run, that the solutions for the Basin's problems will come from the communities there," she said.

During Bettenberg's visit last week, he toured the Klamath Irrigation District, Klamath Drainage District, and met with officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

He also met with the Klamath Water Users Association's board last Thursday before touring the Scott and Shasta rivers in northern California.

A published report in the Tri-County Courier, a Tulelake-area weekly newspaper, said Bettenberg indicated to the water user board that an offer was on the table. It also says that the proposal is detailed in a confidential memo.

Bettenberg said he hasn't written any memos outlining a proposal.

"I'm not authorized to make any offers," he said.

Dan Keppen, water user executive director, said Bettenberg gave a presentation about different water scenarios in the Basin, but didn't propose any offers.

"There is no offer," he said. "We haven't seen any sort of offer or package yet."

Reporter Dylan Darling covers natural resources. He can be reached at 885-4471, (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at ddarling@heraldandnews.com.

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