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Mikkelsen speaks to long-term water solutions. Hundreds attend KWUA annual water meeting


Alan Mikkelsen, senior advisor to Sec. Ryan Zinke on water and western resources, is working with a team of congressional and state leaders on what he calls a “skeletal framework” for a long-term solution to the ongoing water conflicts in the Klamath Basin.

Mikkelsen unveiled the concept during a speech to a nearly standing-room-only crowd at Reames Golf and Country Club on Thursday evening, where area residents and irrigators gathered for the annual Klamath Water Users Association meeting. The meeting drew upwards of 200 people, according to Scott White, executive director of the KWUA.

White said he wished there was such a large crowd every year, but understands the magnitude of why everyone turned out this year.


“I wish we had better news,” White said, noting there is still no definitive start date for water for on-Project irrigators. “You can see the concern, you can see the anxiety that’s going on now.”

Mikkelsen tried to offer hope, and even some humor, for irrigators struggling with how to approach the coming water shortages. Mikkelsen emphasized he is an “advocate of consensus” between all parties, and not for just one of the parties.

Based in Denver, he holds weekly calls with federal and state officials from both Oregon and California to discuss and vet a framework for a solution to water issues.

“The skeleton is under review of everybody on my team,” Mikkelsen said. “We developed this within my office to start with.”

“Number one, we’re not going to go anywhere without congressional buy-in, and so, the very first people I visited here were the members of Congress. I visited all of them several times personally and they were all 100 percent committed to a solution.

“We have so many state issues that we have to deal with, because the states are the ones that control water adjudication and water quality issues … And so, we have to have buy-in from the states with what we’re doing.

“Once this starts coming together, I think it’s actually going to move more quickly than what a lot of people might anticipate,” Mikkelsen added.

White, who is familiar with the framework, shared feedback on it on Friday.

“I think that’s his attempt at saying, ‘It’s time to go. We’ve got the framework laid,” White said, noting that it’s a green light for stakeholders to meet with parties. “This year is critical for many,” White added.

Mikkelsen said it is up to local residents to “put meat on the bones” to the skeletal structure of a solution.

White emphasized that many irrigators are looking short term at just how they can survive the year.


“… That survival is what’s going to put meat on the bones,” White said. “That is what the parties want or need. For us, (that is) water security. It’s huge.”

U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Oregon Democrats, shared prepared video messages and a field aide from U.S. Rep Greg Walden’s office regional office spoke to the crowd, all expressing commitment to working with local parties.

“People care about what’s going on here and people are here because they care,” Mikkelsen said. “I’m hoping at the end of the day that people will go away (believing) that there is some hope here, and that people do care.”

When asked if Zinke would visit the Klamath Basin, Mikkelsen said, “If we can get to a settlement, yes. We’re going to reserve that until we get a solution.”

While Mikkelsen was mum about the details of the “skeleton” framework, he said it’s an approach that would allow parties in the Basin to create their own solution.

“I am optimistic that we are going to start engaging in very substantive discussions with the development what people put on the skeleton,” Mikkelsen said. “I think that will begin to bring people together in a way that they, the people in this Basin, all the way from the Ocean to here, will be able to come up with the solutions that are needed for the Basin.

“… In my own mind, I believe that’s going to occur more quickly than most of us anticipate or think would be possible. The people of this Basin have been through this before.

“There’s a depth of knowledge here, there’s a passion here for the place in which they live, and I really believe that the solutions are here within the people that live here,” he added.


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