Klamath Water Users Association 

Weekly Update

October 10, 2003



ONRC Proposes to Return Private Lands to Klamath Tribes

In a move that will likely add fuel to the fires of controversy in the Klamath Basin, the Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC) yesterday introduced its proposal to acquire private lands to be returned to the Klamath Tribes. Tribal leaders in recent weeks have stated their intent to release their own plan to manage over 670,000 acres of national forest lands – former reservation lands, which they would like to see restored to a tribal reservation. ONRC’s recent report entitled "Concern with The Klamath Tribes’ Proposal to Convert Over One Thousand Square Miles of National Forests to Tribal Reservation" criticizes the tribal proposal, and a coalition of environmental groups this week sent letters to elected officials voicing similar opposition (see inset).

Signatories on 10/8/3 Letter to Elected Officials Opposing Return of Federal Lands to Tribes

Audubon Oregon

Audubon Society of Corvallis

Audubon Society of Portland


Coast Range Association

Friends of Breitenbush

Friends of the Columbia Gorge

Hells Canyon Preservation Council

Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center



Rogue Valley Audubon Society

Salem Audubon Society

Siskiyou Regional Education Project

Soda Mountain Preservation Council

Umpqua Watersheds

Western Land Exchange Project

"Unfortunately, the tribes’ current proposal for reservation restoration raises serious environmental, economic, taxpayer, legal and other concerns," the ONRC report notes.

ONRC has proposed an alternate approach, which would instead acquire privately owned lands within the 1954 Klamath Indian Reservation boundary and nearby areas, totaling over 400,000 acres. ONRC proposes that any private lands and improvements within the former reservation boundary would be eligible for acquisition by the Secretary of the Interior on behalf of the Klamath Tribes if agreeable terms could be reached with the sellers. If agreeable terms could not be reached, the Secretary could obtain the land through eminent domain.

Last March, ONRC sent letters to Klamath Project landowners urging that they contact congressional representatives in support of a massive land buyout program. At the time, ONRC claimed that their proposal would compensate property owners at a rate "nearly three times" the market value of their land after discussing in detail the woes facing Basin farmers. At the time, many in the Project irrigation community were outraged at what they saw as an action designed to divide and conquer the agricultural community. This time, community leaders living in the upper reaches of the Basin are concerned about division.

"I just hope what we see isn’t a tactic that is going to be divisive between the Tribes and the landowners up here," said Jeff Mitchell, former Tribal Chairman to the Klamath Falls Herald and News yesterday. The Tribes are expected to publicly release their forest management plan in the coming weeks.

Interior Official Meets with Water Users to Outline Modeling Parameters

A senior U.S. Interior Department policy official met with Klamath Project irrigators on October 1st to provide an update on the Department’s efforts to assess water rights settlement opportunities in the Upper Klamath Basin. Bill Bettenberg, Director of Interior’s Office of Policy Analysis, spent two hours with local irrigators outlining the parameters of a spreadsheet model that has been developed to assess Klamath Project operations. The model is designed to allow the user to "tweak" variables like tributary inflows, storage, Klamath Project demand, lake levels and Iron Gate flow releases.

Bettenberg has been tasked by the office of Interior Secretary Gale Norton to serve as Interior’s representative in the FERC relicensing process for the Klamath Hydroelectric Project. His other duty is to manage the water rights adjudication settlement, a task he focused on in his meeting with the water users.

Bettenberg and his assistant, David Diamond, presented the model results of several scenarios, including historic simulations of what Project deliveries would have looked like over the past 40 years using the 2001 and current biological opinion conditions. Bettenberg also presented Model Run "A", which includes the following assumptions:

  • 50,000 acre-feet (50 TAF) upstream water acquisitions;
  • 80 TAF Klamath Project demand reduction;
  • 35 TAF of newly developed storage;
  • Minor reductions in present lake level and Iron Gate flow schedules.

Bettenberg very clearly stated that this latter scenario should not be interpreted as reflecting settlement proposal by Interior. The inputs used in the model were the assumptions that, over the past 40 years, result in minimal cutbacks to the Project, given the current BO requirements.

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

The assumption that 80 TAF of Project demand reduction is required to meet the current BO requirements – with slightly modified lake levels and Iron Gate flows – closely matches the BO conditions, which specify a 100 TAF water bank starting in 2005. KWUA in early 2002 objected to the current BOs, and a key concern voiced at that time was the magnitude of the proposed 100 TAF water bank, which is specified for implementation from 2005-2012.

While local water users have expressed a willingness to consider participation in such an "environmental water bank", agreement to do so has hinged upon two important principles: 1) in exchange for participation in the water bank, 100 % of the irrigation demand for the remaining acreage from participating producers will be satisfied, season-long; and 2) the water bank would only be employed in drier year types, not all year types, as implied in the coho BO.

"Commitment to any type of water bank can only occur if the science justifying such a need can be substantiated," said Dan Keppen, KWUA Executive Director. "This is clearly not the case with the coho BO, since it relies heavily on the Hardy flow study – a draft effort that we believe is fatally flawed."

KWUA will continue to monitor Interior’s progress on water rights settlement issues.

Arkansas Water Leaders

Tour Upper Klamath Basin

A group of Arkansas state legislators, conservation agency representatives, and landowners toured the Upper Klamath Basin last week as part of a three-day –event hosted by local resource conservation districts. The Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District and the Butte Valley – Lava Beds Resources Conservation District hosted the event, and KWUA representatives participated in the Klamath Project portion of the tour.

The Arkansas delegation was in town to see for themselves how things operate in the Basin, and to take "lessons learned" back to their home state to promote a proposed water project. The Grand Prairie Region project would provide supplemental irrigation water from the White River to about 352,000 acres of cropland, as well as flooding 45,000 acres of cropland to provide fall and winter feeding and nesting area for waterfowl. The project would combine on-farm conservation measures and on-farm irrigation storage reservoirs with an irrigation canal delivery network to deliver surface water throughout the project and to meet crop water needs and preserve aquifers.

Environmentalist critics of the proposal – which would divert less than 1 percent of the White River’s supply – have claimed that "Klamath-like problems" are inevitable if the Arkansas project is implemented. According to individuals on the tour, environmentalists in Arkansas and Oklahoma have pointed to the 2002 fish die-off on the lower Klamath River as an indication of the type of ecological impacts that might arise from a new federal water project. The delegation was briefed on the fish die-off and activities of the past twelve months, where activists have launched a coordinated attack on Basin agriculture through several forums. Last year’s unfortunate die-off of salmon on the lower Klamath was quickly used by advocates for higher river flows as justification that more water should be reallocated away from the Klamath Project and towards theoretical higher river flows. The Arkansas visitors were unaware that a federal judge recently found that conflicting facts about the fish die-off prevented the judge from reaching a similar conclusion.

The delegation was interested in the Klamath Project area, upper basin adjudication issues, organizations and agencies involved with agricultural water delivery, and the role of legislators.

The Arkansas delegation included:

  • Randy Young, Executive Director, Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission (ASWCC)
  • Pat Smith, ASWCC
  • Dotson Collins, Governor's Policy Advisor
  • Kalven Trice, State Conservationist, NRCS
  • Representative Bill Stovall
  • Representative Preston Scroggin
  • Rep. "Red" Milligan, Speaker Pro Tem
  • Representative Herschel Cleveland, Speaker
  • Senator Jerry Bookout
  • Senator Randy Laverty
  • Ann Cash, Commissioner, ASWCC
  • David Feilke, Commissioner, ASWCC
  • Alec Farmer, Commissioner, ASWCC

The visitors spent one day touring the Klamath Project, and one day in the headwaters of the basin, including a visit to Crater Lake National Park.

Central Oregon

Renewable Energy Forum Scheduled

An upcoming forum in Deschutes County will address issues of interest to Klamath Basin irrigators investigating options to continue reliable and affordable energy supplies. The Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, the Oregon Rural Development Council, and 3E Strategies are hosting a two-day conference on October 21st and 22nd entitled "Growing the Renewable Energy Industry in Central Oregon Forum". The forum will be held at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds. 

Renewable energy industry potential is significant in the Central Oregon corridor, and a fast-growing industry cluster is developing here. The Deschutes County forum is being designed by industry professionals with the underlying assumption that economic revitalization in Central Oregon should include the emerging renewable energy industry cluster. The workshop is designed to identify those and opportunities that are key to the viability and growth of the renewable energy industry.  The forum will focus on how to make renewable energy development profitable and effective in creating jobs, and will conclude with a report from industry to several key local, state, and federal agency representatives, as well as other key community partners, on how to achieve these objectives. Registration for the event must be submitted by October 17th.

Two other events are also being offered in conjunction with the forum - the Oregon Wind Working Group and an introduction to Geothermal Energy. If you are interested in attending the forum, please contact Andrew Stuedli, with the South Central Oregon Economic Development District, at (541)-882-9600, ext. 22.

KWUA Submits Comments to CDFG on Modified Klamath "Fish Kill" Report

The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) last week submitted general comments to the California Department of Fish and Game’s "Draft Report "September 2002 Klamath River Fish Kill: Final Analysis". In summary, KWUA’s response transmits the association’s belief that the available data suggests the most plausible true reasons for the fish die-off are twofold:

  1. An unusual earlier peak run timing of a large salmon run occurred in 2002 compared to prior years.
  2. Two dramatic and uncharacteristic cooling and warming trends occurred during late August and September (when the Upper Klamath River was still naturally unsuitably warm) that probably both attracted fish into the lower river and exposed the fish to chronically and cumulatively stressful conditions.

These circumstances, according to the KWUA letter, were ideal for a disease outbreak among crowded numbers of salmon.



Friday, October 17th, 2003 – Klamath Tribe Tour for Irrigators.

Saturday, October 18, 2003 – Old-Fashioned Hoe Down and Ice Cream Social with Rep. Greg Walden. 2:30-4:30 p.m., Maurice O’Keefe’s barn at 20853 Hill Road, Merrill, Oregon. Call 1-888-774-4734 for more details.

Tuesday, October 21st – Thursday, October 23rd, 2003. Klamath Fish Passage Technical Team. Tour and meetings: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.


Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
(541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893 kwua@cdsnet.net

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