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Water call made on the Williamson

by Stephen Floyd 11/23/16


Williamson River

Water users in the upper Klamath Basin have received shutoff notices for surface water use after the Klamath Tribes called on their water rights earlier this month.

According to the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), the tribes called on their rights Nov. 7 due to decreased flows in the Williamson River and other aquifers.

Water users along the Williamson and its tributaries, as well as the Klamath Marsh, received notices directing them to cease stock and domestic use of surface water until February. Kyle Gorman, regional manger for OWRD, said this should only affect those diverting water from streams and rivers and said wells, which depend on ground water, are not affected.


Gorman said this is the first time the Klamath Tribes have made a call for their in-stream water rights this late in the year. The tribes have maintained priority water rights since 2013 when local water rights were adjudicated in circuit court.

The tribes have previously called on their rights during the summer but not during previous low winter flows.

Resistance to be limited

Gorman said, because irrigation season has passed, his office expects few water users will be impacted.

“In the wintertime, there’s very little quantity of water being diverted from steams,” he said. “The volume is much, much less in the winter.”

He said his office has not encountered significant resistance to the call for water, as can happen during the summer, and said an appeal process remains in place for users who wish to challenge the shutoffs.

But opposition to the call for water was expressed during the Klamath County Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Tom Mallams, an irrigator who has challenged shutoffs in the past, said he is not directly affected by the current shutoff notice but believes this is a sign of future intent to place hardship on water users with lower-priority rights.

“These are very, very, very onerous,” he said.

In 2015 Mallams appealed a call for water made by the Tribes and told the court he had a claim to surface water that superseded the Tribes’. While his appeal was pending, he continued to irrigate his property, which frustrated some residents and was among issues cited during an unsuccessful recall of Mallams the same year.

His appeal was dismissed at his request in June and a similar petition was filed July 25 regarding a call for water made during the 2016 irrigation season. Mallams similarly continued irrigating his property while the appeal was pending and a request to abate the matter until April was approved by the court Nov. 16.

Mallams said Tuesday the call for water may be an attempt to compel support for the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), which define local water use among other issues.

“Somebody’s going to probably stand out there and say, ‘Well, if the agreements were in place, this wouldn’t have happened,’” said Mallams.

KBRA went into effect in 2010, but lapsed in January due to inaction by Congress. KHSA was signed in April and defined the terms by which four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River will be removed by 2020.

Adjudication, agreements

Mallams said the parties who crafted the agreements also defined the terms of adjudication for local water users and he accused them of deciding both without input from the opposition.

“They were negotiating water deals behind closed doors,” said Mallams.

He also said he fears ground water rights will be called by the Tribes in the near future, leading to the shutoff of wells in the upper Klamath Basin and widespread hardship for water users.

“It has the potential of destroying our livestock and agricultural businesses here in the Basin,” he said.

“The Grinch is alive and well, I guess,” Mallams continued. “A little bit early — a month early this year — in the form of a water shutoff.”

When seeking comment regarding their intent behind the call for water, Klamath Tribal Chairman Don Gentry and tribal spokesperson Taylor Tupper could not be reached for comment prior to deadline.

When Gorman was asked if a positive change in water levels was likely to alter the call for water, he indicated it would not, but said his department keeps regular track of flows in local aquifers.


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              Page Updated: Saturday November 26, 2016 05:55 PM  Pacific

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