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Water talks - losing steam?
Published Feb. 20, 2004
By DYLAN DARLING
Members of an informal group bargaining over Klamath Basin water are reviewing a proposal for how it could be divvied up.
But some members of the group say they're skeptical about whether anything will come of it.
The Klamath Irrigation District has decided that its manager won't return to the closed-door talks at the Shilo Inn unless there's more to discuss. And the director of the Klamath Water Users Association says the informal group may be just "spinning its wheels."
The draft proposal and the decision by KID to drop out of the meetings were the two biggest pieces of news out of another meeting Tuesday of a group that started meeting in September.
Jim Root of Medford, a board member of the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, said the draft isn't ready for public review.
"We've developed a draft that different people are going over," he said. "The draft calls for everyone to give up water for the common good."
Root and other group members contacted by the Herald and News would not elaborate on the details. Root, who has led the discussions, said it is a result of numbers crunched using computer models provided by the federal government.
"It's how water could flow through the Klamath Basin and meet all of the legal and volume requirements for endangered species and agriculture," he said.
Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District, didn't go to the Tuesday meeting and probably won't be going anymore.
He said the district's board told him his time would be better spent focusing on the immediate needs of the district, such as overseeing the work on the A Canal tunnel floor replacement, preparing for irrigation season and working on adjudication documents.
And, he said, project irrigators are already being represented by people from the Klamath Water Users Association.
Solem said the last couple of informal meetings were spent looking at spreadsheet after spreadsheet of water flows.
He said he came to the meetings and told the group how much the Klamath Reclamation Project needs to operate - about 500,000 acre-feet per year. Going over the spreadsheets didn't change that, he said.
"The likelihood of something bearing fruit out of that process is kind of questionable," Solem said.
Ross Fleming, one of the five KID board members, said the board didn't see where the meetings were headed.
"We just felt like they were doing the same thing over and over again. They weren't really going anywhere," he said. "When they get something on track, we will be up there again."
Solem was also the president of the Klamath Water Users Association. On Wednesday, Steve Kandra, a Merrill farmer, was voted in as the new president at the water users' annual election.
Dan Keppen, water users executive director, said Kandra will now start going to the meetings.
Besides the waters users, there's the potential for change in the leadership of the Klamath Tribes, which will hold elections in April. Chairman Allen Foreman is running for re-election. Nominations for other candidates will be made at a tribal general council meeting scheduled Sunday.
Previous meetings of the informal group have drawn protesters from a group called the Basin Alliance to Save the Winema and Fremont Forests, who have said they are worried that the group is working out a deal that would give the Klamath Tribes about 690,000 acres of national forest land for a restored reservation.
The restoration of a reservation for the Tribes is on a list of 12 goals worked out by the group in their early meetings.
But several meeting participants contacted by the Herald and News said the issue has not been discussed at the meetings, and the focus has been on the water balance.
Keppen said the water users members and others have criticized the group's participation on the grounds that the water users are cutting a land deal. He said that is not the case.
He said the Tribes need to deal with their land request and meet with their critics before the issue overshadows what is being done in the meetings.
"I believe that the Tribes must hone their land return proposal into something that the community can accept and that is politically realistic," he said.
Until the Tribes come up with a more "realistic and responsive" land proposal, the group may be "spinning its wheels," Keppen said.
"We're not signing off on anything yet," he said. "We have not endorsed any sort of a land return."
Reporter Dylan Darling covers natural resources. He can be reached at 885-4471, (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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