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Klamath tribes, farmers pledge collaboration

The Times-Standard
Two Northern California American Indian tribes and a group of irrigators are trying to replace long-standing hostilities with a spirit of cooperation aimed at restoring the Klamath River.

The Yurok and Karuk tribes, and the Klamath Water Users Association released a statement Tuesday agreeing that lawsuits and fights in the media haven't panned out in anyone's favor.

”We all have had our victories and losses in the legal and administrative battles,” the statement reads. “Yet no one is better off. We think there is a better way.”

The statement was signed by Yurok Tribe Chairman Howard McConnell, Karuk Vice Chairman Leaf Hillman and Klamath Water Users Association Executive Director Greg Addington. The tribes and irrigators have been at odds for years, using different ends of the river for different purposes.

A 200,000-acre federal project on the central California-Oregon border uses water from Upper Klamath Lake to irrigate hay, potatoes and grain. The Yuroks and Karuk fish for salmon in the lower and middle river.

In 2001, the federal government shut off water to most of the project in an effort to save water for threatened coho salmon in the river, and endangered suckers in the lake. That sparked months of protest. The next year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation crimped water for fish, and up to 68,000 salmon died in the river.

Tensions have remained high. But between the groups are a set of hydroelectric dams owned by Pacificorp that are undergoing a license renewal process. Tribes, irrigators and environmental groups have been involved in confidential settlement talks that parallel the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process.

”It is no secret that major concerns for water users are affordable power and water certainty,” the statement reads. “It is no secret that the tribes want considerable improvements in their fisheries and in fact want dams removed. These are all subjects with tremendous implications for the people who live in this basin. We are listening to each other. The tribes do not want to see Upper Basin irrigators go out of business. The irrigators share the tribes' goals of increased fish population and understand that it is in everyone's interest to improve habitat and restore historical habitats.”

The statement reads that the debate is not about farms versus fish, but about farms and fish. The cooperation between the groups could add political weight to an argument to decommission or remove the dams.

The partnership does not mean there have been agreements, the statement reads, but rather a new effort to work together.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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