Capital Press 6/20/13
The leader of the Klamath
Tribes told a U.S. Senate committee June 20 that ranchers
facing water shutoffs in the Upper Klamath Basin would have
to agree to provisions of a three-year-old basin restoration
agreement to negotiate more water from the tribes.
In an exchange with Energy
and Natural Resources Committee chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore.,
tribal chairman Don Gentry said the federation that includes
the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin tribes would honor its
water-sharing pact with reclamation-project irrigators that
was forged as part of the Klamath Basin Restoration
But when Wyden asked him what
it would take for upper basin irrigators to negotiate with
the tribes over water rights, Gentry said users would need
to agree to the KBRA in its present form.
"Decades of failed state and
federal policies over-promised water across the basin,"
Gentry told the committee in opening remarks. "We take no
pleasure from the fact that water must be cut off to some of
our neighbors to meet the United States' obligations."
The hearing in Washington,
D.C., which was streamed live online, came as water rights
calls by the tribes and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
earlier this month forced shutoffs to ranches in the upper
basin. The calls were made possible by a March ruling by an
administrative law judge confirming the tribes have the
oldest water rights in the upper basin.
While Wyden promised more
meetings to address the Klamath Basin's latest water crisis,
much of the testimony in this hearing centered around
reviving the KBRA and a companion proposal to remove four
dams from the Klamath River.
The authorization of the two
agreements has been languishing in Congress since it was
introduced in 2011. Wyden said legislators might accept a
scaled-back version of the agreements, adding their original
$1.1 billion price tag was too expensive in today's
Becky Hyde, a cattle rancher
near Beatty, Ore., told senators her watermaster told her
9-year-old son that water the family has had a right to
since 1864 would be shut off.
"The adjudication creates
winners and losers, and our family is on the losing end,"
Hyde said. "I'm disappointed because we saw this crisis
coming ... If the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement were
in place today, with it would be a reasoned plan for coping
Roger Nicholson, president of
the Resource Conservancy and Fort Klamath Critical Habitat
Landowners, said off-project water users in the upper basin
were shut out of the KBRA process.
"We want a settlement,"
Nicholson said. "We desire a settlement. We're in the
process of meeting with the tribes and hopefully we can
forge ahead and be part of the settlement process. Even
though we would not be allowed to be a signatory on the KBRA,
perhaps we can move forward with a parallel agreement."
However, much opposition to
the KBRA remains in the basin, where voters have supported
its opponents in campaigns for local office by as much as 85
percent, said newly elected Klamath County Commissioner Tom
Mallams, a Beatty, Ore., hay producer.
"One of the stakeholders has
been left out, and that is the citizens as a whole," Mallams
testified. "I represent all the citizens of Klamath County.
... There's no doubt we need a settlement, but the current
KBRA and current proposal for dam removal does not fit the
Gentry -- who was one of four
representatives of area tribes to speak at the hearing --
declined to answer when Wyden asked him if the Klamath
Tribes have been negotiating with upper basin water users to
develop an agreement similar to one the tribes have with
He said the tribes' 1964 pact
with the U.S. government assured them the right to "hunt,
fish, trap and gather," and that exercising their water
rights to maintain healthy fisheries "is critical to the
overall health, social health and well-being of our people."
"What assurances and benefits
would the tribe need in order to get an agreement with the
off-project users?" Wyden asked.
After a pause, Gentry said,
"Well, we would need continued support of the elements of
KBRA that we negotiated. Removing the dams is important to
us, so we'd need those assurances."
"So in effect you're saying
off-project people would just have to support the KBRA in
its present form," Wyden said.
"Yes," Gentry answered.
"Currently that's what our members voted for, and that's
what we and I as a representative of the Klamath Tribes have
authority to discuss. The KBRA does have that flexibility."
U.S. Senate Energy and
Natural Resources Committee: