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Klamath commission holds quick meeting

Tam Moore Oregon Staff Writer 9/23/05

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – The Klamath River Compact Commission, created by the states of Oregon and California and accepted by the Congress of the United States in 1957, held what amounted to its 48th annual meeting last week.

With $110,000 in the bank and all but ignored by the Bush administration as it periodically jousts with imbalanced demands on Klamath waters and its 10-million-acre ecosystem, the commission did its business in less than an hour and adjourned to the bank to change signatures on the checking account.

One of the dozen citizens who attended the meeting in the Oregon State University Extension Auditorium asked Commission Chairman Alice Kilham, the federal representative appointed by the Clinton administration, if it was true she was about to resign, and should they be endorsing someone as a replacement.

“I am the federal appointee. I am at the beck and call of the administration,” she said.

“It’s difficult to work with the administration if you are not part of the administration. I serve until my replacement is named. There has to be a designated place holder. I am it.”

When the compact was negotiated, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was prowling the hinterlands for projects that could send water to the Los Angeles Basin.

Compact boosters wanted to keep Klamath water in their basin, shared by Oregon and California, and to allocate it for local farms, towns, migrating wildlife and hydroelectric generation.

In the aftermath of the 2001 cutoff of federal irrigation water to about 90 percent of Klamath Reclamation Project croplands during a drought, some thought the compact would rise to the top as the way both states and federal interests could create a restoration of resources that eluded the federal government.

That didn’t happen. Despite much-publicized opportunities for intergovernmental cooperation since, creation of another legal entity to shepherd Klamath Basin resources remains elusive. A group of Cabinet secretaries formally told by President Bush to recommend long-term federal objectives missed a deadline in 2003 and hasn’t been heard from since.

The two big things on the commission agenda last week speak to a locally devised work-around. One is continuation of facilitated stakeholder meetings – the next is in October – aimed at a structure that might mesh with a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation initiative for a Klamath conservation implementation plan.

The other is a $1,900-a-year contract to continue placing information on the Internet site Onebasin.org and to redesign some of the Web pages.

Dwight Russell, a California Department of Water Resources regional manager based in Red Bluff, is California’s commissioner. He endorsed both projects.

Phil Ward, Oregon’s director of water resources, represents his state. In a question-and-answer session after the business was over, Ward promised that when Oregon Water Resources Commission meets in Klamath Falls Oct. 27 and 28, it will review policy implications of BuRec’s well contracts that take water out of the basin aquifer, apparently at the expense of domestic and farm wells with senior water rights.

Not discussed at all by the commission was the status of the Klamath cooperation pact that California and Oregon governors agreed to last fall, with blessing of U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton. That group, made up of senior advisers to the governors and Norton, has yet to hold a public meeting within the Klamath Basin.

Ward said he’s happy to visit in September and see what began as another very dry year turn into one with water enough for most users.

“That (spring) precipitation worked ... very successfully,” he said.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.




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