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Focus sought for water program


Published October 24, 2004


State and federal officials see the Conservation Implementation Program as a possible way to a solve the Klamath Basin's continuing water problems. But concerns persist about who will lead the program, and how all the voices will be heard.

"We have to go out to the communities, and have the communities be the governmental structure instead of having something ordered from 1,000 miles, 3,000 miles away or 200 or 300 miles away," said Ed Bartell, president of the Sprague River Water Users Association.

About 40 people gathered Friday night at the Klamath County Fairgrounds to provide feedback to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials about the program. The officials have been on a road trip through the Basin, conducting five meetings about the program since mid-September.

The other meetings were in Yreka, Arcata and Klamath, Calif., last month, and Chiloquin late last week.

Many familiar faces of the Klamath water issue came to the meeting Friday night, including Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water User Association, Dave Sabo, manager of the Klamath Reclamation Project, and Doug Whitsett, State Senate candidate who has been active in water issues.

There were also several landowners and water users at the meeting. While Keppen read prepared notes from the water users' lawyers, some of the landowners presented their fears and concerns about the program.

"Unless you have something concrete, we are just chasing a rainbow," said Frank Hammerick of Bonanza. "And I'm sick of chasing rainbows.

He said he wants to know numbers and ranges, estimates and goals - hard facts to gauge how the program is working.

In the past year, there have many calls for a Basinwide solution for the water issue - including those coming from science conferences in the lower and upper Basin, at the congressional field hearing in July in Klamath Falls, and a meeting held by California Rep. Mike Thompson in Eureka in August.

The latest call came with an agreement signed by the governors of Oregon and California, as well as the secretaries of four federal departments, and announced last week by Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

At the meetings in Chiloquin and elsewhere, Bureau officials emphasized that they are facilitating the formative meetings of the program and are not its leaders. Who will be the leaders will be determined by the groups that want to be involved.

How the meetings for the program will be run, and who will be on what subcommittees, also need to be determined. To try to bring the groups spread through the Basin together, officials have talked about using video conference centers and other technology. There was also talk of having subgroups that meet in different parts of the Basin.

Whitsett, who is the President of Water for Life, a water rights lobbying group, said it would be difficult for a rancher or farmer to take time off from a roundup or harvest to go to a meeting in Arcata. Likewise, it would hard for a lower Klamath River fisherman to come to Klamath Falls when the salmon run is in.

But, he said, the program has promise.

"If you get the right parameters and the right members, it might work," he said.

While many Friday night were talking about the generalities of the program, Keppen went into specifics about language and other details in the program's draft.

He said the he has to make sure that local landowners and water users have a say.

"We feel this process is something that will work, but we've got to make it work for water users," Keppen said.

The water users want to have the protected fish in the Basin restored, he said.

"I think we all want these fish recovered, because the sooner they are recovered, the sooner they are off the (protected species) list," Keppen said.

And that would mean less federal regulation of actions in the Basin, he added.

Karas said they want to restore the Basin to where its fish - threatened coho and endangered suckers - and other resources can survive and be harvested by people. The goal is not to turn back the clock and have the resources reach the supply and shape they were in before humans entered the picture.

"We are not just trying to make a park that is hands off," Karas said.

The program's original draft was released in July 2003, and the second draft came this February.

She said people are still skeptical of the program, and the details still need to be fleshed out. One more meeting might be held downstream, and then a third draft developed.

From there, the groups that have said they want to be on the coordinating committee will start vetting the program, hammering out what they want to change or keep in its wording.

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Bureau takes new program for test drive

CHILOQUIN - "Basinwide" is the new buzz word for groups trying to find balance in the Klamath Basin water issue.

About 30 people, including federal, state and tribal officials, gathered Thursday at the Klamath Tribes Administration Building to talk about how to create a program leading to a Basinwide solution.

The meeting was the fourth in a series of five, the last of which will be tonight in Klamath Falls. Previous meetings were held in Yreka, Arcata and Klamath, Calif.

The plan is known as the Conservation Implementation Program. It is expected to be the focus of a state-federal initiative announced last week by Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

The Chiloquin meeting lasted for a little more than two hours. Participants talked about what can and can't be solved by groups from the headwaters of the Williamson and Sprague rivers to the mouth of the Klamath River working together.

"This program has to end somewhere, it can't cover the whole wide world," said Christine Karas, deputy manager of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Falls office.

But much needs to be defined about the program aside from being Basinwide. Where will the meetings be? What will the organization look like? What are the goals?

And, who will lead it? "Right now, no one agrees on who that should be," Karas said.

Karas emphasized that the Bureau is facilitating the meetings, but is not the designated leader.

Solid leadership is needed, said Becky Hyde, whose family has a ranch on the Williamson River. But that leadership can't come down from the top and force things on the people, she said.

"I am really scared that we are not going to reach the little people in this Basin," she said.

Carl Brown, owner of the Agency Lake Resort, said getting a Basinwide program is imperative.

"Something needs to happen or the Basin will die," Brown said.

Karas said top-down leadership wouldn't work.

"If you know the folks who live in this Basin, that is not going to be the way to go," she said.

Curt Mullis, manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Klamath Falls office said the restoration of the two endangered suckers in the Basin is something that could be achieved through the program because the suckers live solely in the Basin.
But how to gauge sucker restoration? How many suckers are out there anyway?

"We are never going to know how many suckers are out there," he said. "That is biologically impossible."

He said the quality of habitat available for the suckers and quality of water are key factors in determining how the suckers are doing.

In contrast to the suckers, the coho salmon aren't confined to the Basin. They live much of their lives in the sea, and stocks of them spawn in the Rogue River in western Oregon and the Mad River south of the Klamath Basin.

Thus, the program can help restore the fish, but other efforts will be needed as well, said Irma Largomarsino, supervisor of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service's Arcata Field Office. Adding to the difficulty of restoring the coho are the physical changes to the Klamath River, with the addition of hydroelectrical dams, in the last century.

"It is not likely that they will ever be back to historical levels, but that does not mean they will be delisted," she said.

Karas said the turnout for the Chiloquin meeting was disappointing, although people from many sides of the issue came.

"We had a pretty good cross-cut, just a small number," she said.

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