Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Final Task Force meeting today; Proposed water pact to be made public; solutions for refuges remains unclear
by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 12/3/13
sign water pact
“The main purpose of the task force meeting is to do a final runthrough ,” said Richard Whitman, Gov. Kitzhaber’s natural resources policy adviser, and coordinator of the task force groups.The task force, created by Sen. Ron Wyden last year to address water resource issues in the Klamath Basin, has focused on improving three areas of Klamath water use: developing a water management plan for the upper Klamath Basin, addressing the affordability of agricultural power rates, and lowering federal costs for proposed settlement agreements, which are currently estimated at nearly $800 million. The group met three times last summer to discuss the larger issues. Between those times, subcommittees worked on settling the nuts and bolts in areas of disagreement.
“The advantage of having a settlement plan is having an overarching plan that you can hook already existing programs into,” said Glen Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations Northwest regional director.The Agreement in Principle was signed Monday by Klamath Tribes and the Upper Klamath Water Users Association. Details about the agreement will be made public today.
“The real issue that’s been sitting on the table is what to do about reallocating water in the Upper Basin,” Spain said.The agreement is based on a voluntary reduction in the amount of water used by irrigators and voluntary limits set by tribes for the amount of water they request to be regulated, according to Whitman.
“I believe it’s a fair proposal and a significant milestone,” he said.Although compromises between two key Upper Basin stakeholders signal progress in water allocation, Steve Pedery, conservation director at Oregon Wild, said the task force has not fully acknowledged water issues in the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath refuges.
“We’d like to see an inclusion addressing the water crisis in our refuges,” he said. “The environmental value is just too high to let it go.”Spain, who is a member of the budget subcommittee, said a considerable amount of money is coming into the Basin that can earmarked for projects consistent with restoration efforts.
“We discovered that about 61 to 70 percent of the budget is already authorized by Congress ,” he said.In addition, since the task force began meeting in July, the subcommittee has eliminated projects no longer needed and those that have been completed, reducing the overall federal need by about 38 percent.
According to Spain, the goal is to finalize a comprehensive settlement plan as quickly as possible because time is limited to take advantage of the lowrate federal power, which may increase in June.In addition, task force members want desperately to avoid the water shutdowns similar to those the Basin has experienced in the past, he said.
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Tribes, irrigators sign water pact
Details of ‘Agreement in Principle’ topic of public meetingsThe Klamath Tribes and the Upper Basin “Off Project” Irrigators have signed an “agreement in principle” over sharing of the area’s most precious resource — water.
Details of the agreement will be made public at several meetings scheduled later this month. It will then be subject to final approval by the Klamath Tribes General Council.“Negotiating and signing this agreement is a very important and positive step in the efforts of the Klamath Tribes and irrigation community to resolve years of ongoing conflicts and court battles over water management affecting the Tribes’ fisheries and other treaty resources, and the economic stability of our community,” said Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, in a press release.
“With the AIP in place,” he said, “the Klamath Tribes Negotiation Team (KTNT) and other parties will intensify our efforts to continue the hard work of negotiating a final agreement that will meet tribal needs, and the needs our neighbors.”The issue of water usage came to a head early this year when the final state water adjudication decision was handed down, granting the tribes the first and primary claim of water usage in the Basin.
Upper Basin irrigationWhen a summer drought hit, the Tribes made a call on its water, forcing the shutdown of numerous irrigators in the Upper Basin, mostly cattle operations. Even Crater Lake National Park was threatened with a water shutoff and took action to reduce the amount of water used by park visitors.
Monday’s agreement is based on the tribal-approved Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement or KBRA with irrigators in the Lower Basin. Though some KBRA water users saw reduced water use this summer, most benefitted from sharing the resource with the tribes.Gentry and representatives of the Upper Klamath Basin “Off-Project” Irrigators met at the Oregon Institute of Technology to sign the agreement Monday.
Negotiated over several months, the pact provides a framework based on a common set of principles and concepts that the parties will share with their constituents. It represents a critical step toward resolving Upper Klamath Basin water and fisheries disputes not previously addressed in the KBRA, the press release said.In addition to resolving water and fisheries issues, the agreement is intended to result in a final agreement that will provide support for the economic development interests of the Klamath Tribes, provide a stable, sustainable basis for the continuation of agriculture in the Upper Klamath Basin, and improve fisheries habitat and water quality by restoring and managing riparian corridors along streams that flow into Upper Klamath Lake.
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Page Updated: Monday December 16, 2013 01:15 AM Pacific
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