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KWUA, officials review pact
  By LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 12/14/13 
     An Upper Basin Water Users Association consultant called a Thursday meeting with government officials and Basin irrigators “very positive,” but said there are still a lot of questions the groups need answers to.

   “We’re still in the baby-step stage,” consultant Dani Watson said.

   At the meeting, Richard Whitman, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s natural resource advisor, and the Upper Klamath Water Users Association reviewed a pact developed as part of the Klamath Basin Task Force initiative. The task force was appointed by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in July to tackle Basin natural resource issues; the pact, known as the Agreement in Principle, was released at the final task force meeting earlier this month.

   Becky Hyde, a member of the upper Basin irrigators group and the task force, said the focus of the meeting was to help the upper Basin community understand what the AIP means to them and to encourage feedback about the document.  Preliminary agreement intended to balance water needs of each group

   “I think most people understand if we want water certainty in the future, we need a settlement,” Hyde said. According to the final report draft, the AIP must be completed by Jan. 17. The pact is a preliminary agreement between UKWUA and the Klamath Tribes intended to balance the water needs of each group. The AIP is one part of a three-part piece of legislation lawmakers hope to pass through Congress early next year. In addition to the AIP water allocation document, the legislation will outline plans for reducing on-and-off-project power rates and federal funding for projects and conditions set forth by the 2010 Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.  

   Conditions of the AIP include reducing agricultural water use by 30,000 acre feet through permanent buy out, or “retirement,” of some upper Basin irrigators’ water rights. Watersheds directly referenced in the AIP are the Williamson, Wood and Sprague rivers.

   Jerry Jones, who owns 20 acres in the upper Basin, said irrigators who are not in desperate financial straits are unlikely to sell their water rights or vote in favor of the AIP.

   “Not everybody has a gun to their head. It’s not going to work,” he said.

   Hyde is optimistic irrigators will work collaboratively to reach the group’s goals.

   “People are serious about moving forward, I think,” she said.

   Watson said two looming AIP issues are how the 30,000-acre-feet benchmark will be met and what the water retirement leases in the agreement might include. The 30,000 acre feet include leaving water in Upper Klamath Lake, as well as river and in-stream flows, Watson said, although the deadline for implementing the 30,000-acre-feet requirement is still in negotiations.  

   “The problem is there’s just not enough water, but this is no means a way of forcing people to retire their water rights,” she said. “We are looking for people who are interested in retiring.”

   Hyde said it is too soon to worry about whether the 30,000-acre-feet benchmark can be met.

   According to Watson, another challenge the group faces is making contact with irrigators who leave Klamath for the winter and those traveling for the holidays, before the January deadline.

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN



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