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Water talks focus on 'key areas'

Published Nov. 9, 2003


Members of a group trying to devise ways of solving contentious Klamath Basin land and water issues are feeling the pressure to produce possible solutions.

"We do feel pressure to generate some results," said Jim Root, one of the designated spokesmen for the informal group that includes irrigators, Klamath Tribes representatives and others with stakes in Klamath Basin water and land issues.

Root, president of Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, said the informal group is being kept purposely small so that a working core of members can study and recommend solutions.

He said the group has expanded its visibility by offering public tours and, because of that, "we feel that has stepped up the need to get results." No timetables have been set, however, for finalizing recommendations.

Root believes progress was made during Friday's day-long meeting at the Shilo Inn. About a dozen Basin participants were joined by William Bettenberg, director of the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Policy and Analysis in Washington, D.C., and representatives from various Klamath Basin federal agencies.

Root said the group identified "four key areas that we are focusing on," including Klamath Basin water balance; establishment of a Klamath Tribal reservation, primarily from Winema National Forest lands; restoration of lake fringes and river habitats; and settlement of the ongoing Oregon water adjudication process.

After identifying the areas, Friday's gathering focused on water balance, he said, with Bettenberg and his team showing modeling plans that could be used to describe water balance issues.

Root said the group centered its talks around a model he described as "robust" because it is user-friendly, has broader applications and primarily deals with water volumes, such as inputs and outputs.

The model uses 40 years of Basin water flows to help forecast various future scenarios if, for example, the Barnes Ranch, located near the north end of Upper Klamath Lake, is purchased for water storage. It shows how release of water from the ranch would affect waterflows to the Irongate Dam and the Klamath Irrigation Project.

"We've had four meetings that have been pretty general," Root said. "This is the start of getting into the key areas."

He characterized Friday's session as "an educational meeting" aimed at helping participants understand water models and factors affecting the balance of water in the Upper Klamath River Basin.

"I'm impressed with the spirit and enthusiasm all the participants are bringing to the meetings," Root said, noting the group's purpose is to "try and develop a vision for what Basin water management can look like."

Root said the discussions are being driven, in part, by concerns over potentially time-consuming, financially devastating lawsuits and court challenges.

"You take a cold, somber look at what the future could look like without settling these issues," Root said. "This is an attempt to see if we can bring people together to settle issues."

Although litigation has not been directly discussed, "We are aware of the legal climate," Root said. "It's sobering, just the volume of lawsuits that are filed currently or are pending."

Meetings are held by invitation-only and are closed to the media, Root said, "because the subject matter is so complex it can be handled by a limited number of people at one time. We are making no decisions. This is a group of private individuals meeting to create a vision. Everything that comes out of this will be open to public scrutiny and development well before anything is implemented."

Root lives in Medford and owns and operates Sabrosa, a fruit processing plant. He has owned 570 acres in the Wood River Valley, including a portion of the former Klamath Agency, for eight years. The ranch provides seasonal pasture for steers.

"My own personal goal has been to help look for a solution for this very complex and difficult set of water problems," Root said. "I am optimistic about the direction we're heading."

The group will meet next Nov. 17 at the Shilo Inn to continue discussions on water models and balancing water demands.

Among those attending Friday's meeting were Root, Dan Keppen, Joe Browder, Allen Foreman, Jeff Mitchell, Joe Hobbs, Elwood Miller, Chuck Bacchi, Jim Popson, Becky Hyde, Bob Sanders, Doug Whitsett, John Crawford, Kurt Thomas and Steve West.




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