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Historic water pact;
Tribes, irrigators settle divisive issues. $40 million will be given to the Klamath Tribes to create jobs
  By LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 3/6/14

     The Klamath Tribes, ranchers, irrigators and the state announced a comprehensive water management agreement Wednesday that will help move forward legislation to resolve water disputes in the Klamath Basin.

   The “Proposed Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement” settlement was announced by Klamath Tribes leaders, irrigators and officials who have been working for more than eight months to develop a pact to balance the needs of upper Basin stakeholders and curtail years of disagreements over water allocations.

   “It really is a historic day,” said Richard Whitman, Gov. Kitzhaber’s natural resource adviser who led the committee and the Klamath Basin Task Force.

   The agreement contains three key elements:

   Increase instream flows to Upper Klamath Lake by at least 30,000 acre feet by voluntary retirement of some water claims and by the Klamath Tribes giving up some of its water demands for fisheries;

   A riparian program that will restore and maintain streams that feed the upper lake to sustainable fisheries;

   A $40 million economic development package for the Tribes to fund a timber mill and other related activities so they can harvest timber on the 92,000-acre Mazama Forest and grow its economic base. The Tribes also would receive $1 million a year for five years from the Department of Interior to address tribal transition needs beginning this year.
Goal is to get water legislation through Congress by this year  

   A preliminary draft of the settlement agreement was released in December. In the last month, stakeholders have been working almost daily to finalize the agreement details, Whitman said. Now that the proposed agreement is released, a 30-day period will be open for members of the Klamath Tribes and the upper Basin irrigation community to review the document.

   “I believe we achieved something remarkable, something that provides balance for the Klamath Tribes and the irrigation community. Now it’s up to the parties to go back to our members and explain what the agreement is about,” said Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry.  

   If stakeholders agree to the settlement, Whitman said he expects to return to Klamath County in mid-April for a signing ceremony with officials from the federal government.

   Garrett Roseberry, a representative of the Sprague River Water Resource Group, said the feedback he has received from community members has been positive.

   “Over the last eight or nine months, it’s become very apparent that the communities have the same interests and we’re all looking for the same outcomes,” he said.

   Stakeholders who developed the agreement are a subcommittee of the Klamath Basin Task Force appointed by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The   27-member task force was divided into three subcommittees assigned to evaluate stakeholder interests, including reducing power rates for off-project irrigators, reducing the cost of the project and resolving water allocation issues in the upper Basin.

   If passed through Congress, the legislation could garner the federal approval and financial appropriations needed to move the 2010 Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the related Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, forward. The agreements seek to establish reliable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators, restore fish habitat, help the Klamath Tribes acquire the 92,000-acre Mazama Forest and remove four dams on the Klamath River.  

   “The goal is to get this passed through Congress this year. We believe there is a better opportunity right now to pass this legislation than there has been for several years, particularly now with having all elements of the community behind it,” Whitman said.

   Whitman said the power portion of the legislation is still being developed.

   Buying out claims

   The upper Basin agreement has three key components: a water program; a riparian restoration program; and an economic development program for the Klamath Tribes.

   The water program requires an increase of at least 30,000 acre-feet into Upper Klamath Lake on an annual basis. The need will be met by irrigators who voluntarily opt to retire their water rights, thereby reducing water use and increasing instream flows in tributaries above the lake. Landowners who opt-in will be compensated by a variety of sources, including the federal government, Whitman said.

   In response to the program, WaterWatch of Oregon released a statement opposing the agreement’s ties to the KBRA:

   “While reducing upper basin irrigation water demand by 30,000 acre feet is a welcome step in the right direction, it is nowhere near enough to solve the profound water imbalance impacting the entire Klamath Basin.
  Joining this positive new agreement with the controversial and costly KBRA would be an unfortunate step backward and would actually erase its much needed gains. That’s because the KBRA doubles down on the bad policy that got us into this mess — promising far more water than is available in many years,” the release said.  

   Andrea Rabe, consultant to the Sprague River Water Resource Foundation and the Fort Klamath Critical Habitat Landowners, explained that voluntary water retirements will begin when landowners sign a statement of intent. Then over the following months, a reduction design will be implemented according to the technical needs of a property. Once a landowner has agreed to permanently retire rights, the government will have discretion whether to purchase the right or not.

   “The purchase price has to be an appropriate price. We’re not trying to undersell the land; we’re trying to make it a reasonable price for the value of the water,” Rabe said.

   How much irrigators receive for their water rights will depend on what area the property is in — certain areas will have higher values due to the water returned to the stream when not irrigating, Rabe said. She expects about 18,000 land acres, maybe upward of 22,000 land acres, will be retired through the program.

   “That would be just short of the 30,000 acre feet, but there are other methods we feel we can use to make up that deficit,” she said.

   Tribal job creation

   The Klamath Tribes will be allotted $40 million to establish an economic development plan and revitalize regional industry, including taking ownership of the 92,000-acre Mazama Forest as a condition of the KBRA.

   The Tribe also will receive $1 million annually from the Department of the Interior for a five-year period, according to the agreement. Gentry said some flexibility in how the funds are used exists, but the Tribes’ focus is to   strengthen the forestry component in the local economy. The additional $5 million will support Tribal needs during the transition period.

   “Our long-term goal is to be economically sustainable, as viable in the community as we were when we had a reservation. The acquisition of the Mazama Forest, which as a condition of the KBRA is critical, and this additional economic component is essential for us to build the capacity to provide jobs and economic opportunity for our folks,” Gentry said.  

   Gentry explained the agreement’s multi-million dollar component will aid in re-establishing a Tribe-owned mill site in the Mazama Forest. Once the Mazama Forest is acquired, more economic infrastructure options will be evaluated.

   Developing an economic plan to see how the money will be spent hinges on the entire comprehensive bill successfully passing through Congress.

   Irrigators to weigh in

   Roseberry reiterated that, for irrigators, each decision to participate in the settlement will be on an individual basis, and no general vote will be held to approve the pact. Instead, three community meetings will be held in the coming weeks to raise awareness about the agreement and discuss concerns of upper Basin farmers and ranchers   .

   “I think our biggest challenge right now is the education factor, so that everybody has a very good knowledge of what the document is, what the details are and how it will affect them throughout their practices in the coming years,” he said.

   Gentry said the Klamath Tribes also will hold a series of meetings in the next month to discuss conditions of the agreement. Tribal members will vote whether or not to accept the agreement. Gentry said the vote is a referendum, meaning the decision is made by the majority.  

   If stakeholders agree to the settlement, Whitman said attention will turn to bringing together the comprehensive legislation slated to be introduced to Congress this year.

   “We anticipate there is a high probability that we’ll be able to succeed with that this year,” Whitman said.  

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN  

  Andrea Rabe, a consultant to the Sprague River Water Resources Foundation and the For Klamath Critical Habitat Land Owners association, speaks to Herald and News Editor Gerry O’Brien on the details of a deal struck among Upper Klamath Basin water stakeholders on Wednesday.

   H&N photos by Dave Martinez

   Garrett Roseberry, a representative of the Sprague River Water Resource Group, speaks during a press conference Wednesday regarding a deal struck among Upper Klamath Basin water stakeholders.
  H&N photo by Dave Martinez

   Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry, left, speaks to Herald and News editor Gerry O’Brien, center, while U.S. Fish and Wildlife Klamath River Basin Coordinator Matt Barry, right, listens. Upper Klamath Basin water users struck a long-negotiated deal, they announced Wednesday.




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