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Officials seeking water solution

August 4, 2005 by DYLAN DARLING

Federal officials say they still want to find an overall solution to water woes in the Klamath Basin, despite claims by irrigators above Upper Klamath Lake that the federal government isn't interested.

"We would really like to see things worked out and are working with those groups," Dave Sabo, manager of the Klamath Reclamation Project, said in a Tuesday meeting with the Herald and News editorial board.

But former state Sen. Steve Harper, representing a group that floated a proposal to Interior Department officials in Washington, D.C., in February, said he still hasn't heard what needs to be done to make the agreement work.

"Well, they need to tell us then, if that is the case," Harper said. "They need to say what they think is fair. They need to make a counter offer, if you will."

Klamath Tribes Chairman Allen Foreman and Fort Klamath rancher Roger Nicholson traveled to Washington together in February to present Interior Department officials with a four-page agreement they said would settle a long-standing legal dispute over water above Upper Klamath Lake.

Sabo said the Interior Department was given general concepts, but needs to know in more detail how the agreement would work.

"We haven't seen any proposals," Sabo said. "We've been working on the concepts we've been given."

Sabo said Interior Department officials asked for more details, but Harper and Nicholson said they still haven't heard back from them.

"I see no interest on the Interior Department's part in settling it at all," Nicholson said.

The agreement called for the Tribes and Upper Basin irrigators to drop their contests of each others claims in the adjudication process, which will determine who holds the highest priority water rights.

The agreement also called for the federal government to establish a "joint restoration committee" with $200 million, or $10 million per year for 20 years, for environmental projects above Upper Klamath Lake.

Sabo said the money wasn't the problem with the agreement, but the lack of details. He said he doesn't understand why Foreman and Nicholson didn't try to get members of Oregon's congressional delegation to introduce a bill that would have supported and funded the agreement.

"They know how the game works," he said.

Nicholson said the Tribes and irrigators chose to approach the Interior Department because of the Tribes' ties with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a branch of Interior. The BIA has claims against irrigators above Upper Klamath Lake filed in the adjudication.

"In order for the Tribes to settle, the Interior Department needs to settle," he said.

Harper the parties involved in the agreement hope to meet soon with Larry Finfer, the Interior Department official handling Klamath issues.




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