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Water talks could be finished by November

July 14, 2007 Herald and News

Stakeholders who are meeting privately to find solutions to Klamath River water allocation and other watershed issues hope to have an agreement by November.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, gave that timetable Thursday during a meeting of the Klamath River Compact Commission.

The confidential talks are part of the re-licensing of PacifiCorp to operate the Klamath Hydroelectric Project on the Klamath River. If the stakeholders reach an agreement, it would be presented to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which makes the final decision on licensing conditions.

The stakeholders’ goal is to promote sustainable communities” including farming in the Upper Klamath Basin and fishing and tribal communities downriver.

Addington emphasized that details of the closed-door talks can’t be revealed because of ongoing litigation and participants’ desire “to have the comfort to talk freely.”

The group has been meeting for two years, convening for two to three days each month. It includes representatives from four tribes, Oregon and California government agencies, three counties, nine conservation groups and federal bodies.

“We’ve made progress, but there’s a lot of heavy lifting to do,” Addington said. “We’re investing a lot of time and effort into a process we think is going to work.”

One of the discussion points centers on the probable return of endangered salmon to the Upper Klamath Basin. Addington said irrigators want a “safe harbor” that allows them to keep farming without undue restrictions.

“We don’t want to oppose that,” he said of salmon’s return. “We want to welcome salmon back, but not have to worry about our operations being at stake.”

Other issues

Other key issues to irrigators are affordable power, and an adequate supply of water when it is needed.

He said it has taken time for trust to develop among the 26 stakeholder groups. PacifiCorp has not taken part in discussions recently, he added, because the “third-party issues” are not of concern to their operation of dams.

Discussions have been stressful at times.

“It’s the hardest and most frustrating thing I’ve ever been involved with,” Addington said. “Some things have been accomplished. I’m not ready to turn my back on (the process.)”

In response to a question, he acknowledged that any agreement reached by the settlement group could be challenged in court.

 Steve Kadel

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