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A step forward -
State and local dignitaries come together Friday at Collier Memorial State Park to sign the much-debated Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement
  By LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 4/19/14
     CHILOQUIN — After decades of division, upper Klamath Basin stakeholders met on common ground Friday to finalize a historic water agreement intended to restore fisheries and stabilize the agriculture community. The crystal-clear Spring Creek, which feeds the Williamson River — one of several major tributaries affected by the   accord — provided the backdrop for the signing at Collier Memorial State Park. Members of the Klamath Tribes and Upper Basin water users sat down with state and federal officials to sign the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (UKBCA).

   Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Gov. John Kitzhaber, and Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley spoke at the ceremony prior to signing the UKBCA.  Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry called the agreement “monumental,” adding that it secures a future for the region and honors Klamath Tribes and its treaty.

   Wyden applauded stakeholders for bringing an agreement to fruition under such an aggressive timeline and announced plans to introduce it in Congress next month.

   “With the final pieces in place, I am going to introduce it in the first few days of May, legislation in partnership with Sen. Merkley to make the agreement law,” Wyden said.

   Settlement talks began last year after Wyden appointed 27 members to a Klamath Basin Task Force. The task force was divided into subcommittees assigned to evaluate stakeholder interests and to make recommendations for moving a three-part piece of legislation through Congress.  

   The legislation will outline mechanisms for reducing power rates for offproject irrigators, reducing the cost of the agreement to $500 million, and provide management recommendations for upper Basin water allocation. If passed, the bill could provide funding for the 2010 Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the Klamath Hydro Settlement Agreement with PacifiCorp, which may involve removing four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, thus allowing salmon runs to return to Upper Klamath Lake.

   “We could tell that the time was right last June, that the parties were ready to really seriously come to the table and try to resolve things,” said Richard Whitman, Gov. Kitzhaber’s natural resources adviser.  

   Whitman, who led task force negotiations, said the fact that stakeholders completed the initial agreement in about four months, and then the final agreement in about three months, is remarkable in comparison to other agreements with similar complexity.

   “It’s a reflection of how hard people were working,” he said.

   The long-awaited pact is intended to restore fisheries and riparian habitat for the Klamath Tribes and provide economic stability for the upper Basin farmers   and cattle ranchers, Gentry said. He expressed sadness with the struggling sucker populations and loss of salmon in the Basin.

   Irma Lagomarsino, assistant regional administrator for the NOAA Fisheries California Coastal Office and task force member, told the Herald and News that salmon could benefit tremendously from the agreements. She said if Basin water quality and habitat is improved and four Klamath River dams are removed by 2020, as proposed in the KBRA, salmon could once again travel into Klamath tributaries to spawn 240 miles from the Pacific.

   “We think the salmon will respond immediately,” Lagomarsino said.

   Lagomarsino said the Endangered Species Act, which provides protections for chinook and coho salmon, cannot singularly bring back fish.

   “We are relying on communities to help out and do their part — that’s what these agreements represent. It’s a community approach and not just a single entity or species approach,” she said.  

   Upper Basin rancher and task force member Roger Nicholson has optimism for the prospect of change.

   “There’s hope for a healthy tribal fishery, a healthy tribal economy; there’s indeed hope that once again we will have stability within the agriculture community (that also relies on the water for irrigation),” he said.

   Kitzhaber reflected on the last decade, noting the Basin’s history of hardship and conflict.

   He said tensions haven’t always existed and dogged determination has been the force behind moving the community back into a time of peace and prosperity and finalizing a settlement.

   Garrett Roseberry, a representative of the Sprague River Water Resource Foundation, said upper Basin stakeholders have more in common than many previously believed.

   “I can tell you today that the upper Basin irrigators are very much looking forward to working with the Klamath Tribes and other entities to move forward in a positive direction long-term,” he said.

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN
  H&N photos by Steven Silton

  ABOVE: Members of the Klamath Tribes attended the ceremony to honor the newly signed water agreement.

  RIGHT: The first five people to sign the pact were (from left to right) Garret Roseberry, Roger Nicholson, Governor John Kitzhaber, Don Gentry and Becky Hyde.



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