Department of Interior adviser Alan Mikkelsen in the Klamath
solutions a long way off
by Gerry O'Brien, Herald and
Mikkelsen likens the Klamath Basin water negotiations to
climbing Mount Everest.
just left Base Camp and have a long way to go,” the veteran
water negotiator for the Department of Interior told the
Herald and News in a sit-down interview Wednesday morning.
“We may summit; we may get blown off the mountain. And the
unknown is the storms on the horizon.”
storm that may have “a disastrous effect,” he said is the
recent lawsuit by the Klamath Tribes against the Bureau of
Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and National
Marine Fisheries Service, to keep a certain water level in
Upper Klamath Lake for the benefit of endangered shortnosed
sucker and Lost River sucker.
case is before U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San
Francisco, who recently ruled against Basin irrigators
regarding Klamath River flows.
Judge Orrick rules against the federal government, it could
shut down all irrigation in the Basin by mid-July,”
Mikkelsen said. If that happens, the numerous talks he’s
been having with individual stakeholders up and down the
Klamath River could be for naught.
Seeking the injunction to maintain lake levels is the
Klamath Tribes. Tribal Chairman Don Gentry told the Herald
and News that the issue is a matter of extinction for the
don’t want to come off as trying to cause harm to anyone,
but we have to be focused on preventing the fish from
becoming extinct. We don’t have the flexibility to provide
water at the expense of our fish and feel our backs are up
against the wall on this,” Gentry said.
issue with the sucker is that adults have been found in the
lake, but there’s a lack of juvenile fish, and, as that
older group ages, there’s a real danger they won’t
reproduce. Biologists are trying to raise juveniles in
captivity and release them when their chances for survival
tried to get ahead of the extinction issue, knowing it was
going to be a tough year,” Gentry said. “That is why we took
a real strong position (in the water calls and filing the
injunction) knowing that we have to protect the fish. Once
they are gone, they are gone.”
Klamath Water Users Association seeks to dismiss the case
before Orrick, believing it is in the wrong court (that it
should be in Oregon rather than California) and that the
lake levels sought are artificially high. Orrick may rule
from the bench at a July 11 hearing on the preliminary
once-retired Mikkelsen, now 66, is the Senior Adviser to the
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke for Water and Western
Resource Issues. He is hoping to bring the disparate parties
together for a long-term water solution.
taking on the Klamath Basin last summer, he estimates he’s
spent at least one week a month focused on Klamath.
the most complex water issue I’ve dealt with in my career,”
he said, noting that tensions and anxiety are high among the
stakeholders this summer, due to the recent court decisions
and pending litigation.
his staff have been collecting comments from the various
tribes along the Klamath River, the irrigation district
members, and individual cattle ranchers in the Upper Basin —
all inexorably linked to the water. He’s met separately with
each group, but has not had them all at one table.
hopes to have a framework document or a “roadmap to the
future” drawn up by early August that stakeholders can
review and then release to the public.
comments have been thoughtful, pragmatic, articulate and
sometimes emotional,” Mikkelsen said.
said that the meetings have been in private with various
groups to allow them “a safe space” to speak their minds
have their desires known.
want to make sure what gets submitted and distributed is not
going to be used against anyone, especially in litigation,
so we are developing a confidentiality agreement.”
noted that the Klamath Tribes can agree to the principles of
the framework, but will be asking Mikkelsen to speak to the
tribal general council sometime in August about the
specifics. He cautioned that the Tribes wants to see what
the process for reaching a water agreement will mean. It’s
too early for the Tribes to commit to any binding pact, he
can see why the Basin issue is so complex.
don’t think it’s too fine of a point to say this is one of
the largest resource complexes in the United States in terms
of the complexity, number of players, resources and
litigation,” Mikkelsen said.
have a background in conflict resolution and strange as it
may seem, I really get off on fixing things like this. But
this is my Mount Everest,” he said. (Mikkelsen recently
negotiated a water pact in New Mexico that he terms a “Mount
McKinley,” yet that took only six months to resolve).
Basin had a solution within its grasp with the Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement or KBRA that was sent to Congress for
approval a few years back, but failed to get out the House.
compare Mikkelsen’s framework to an agreement with the KBRA
would be a mistake, Mikkelsen said, largely due to the new
litigation that has been filed and new scientific research
on the fishery in the last 10 years.
would say that the chapter headings are similar to the KBRA,
but the content is different, because we have 10 years of
better information and science, but also court orders and
injunctions and an upcoming biological opinion (on the
effects of Klamath Project operations on threatened and
endangered species due out in 2020),” he said.
unless neighbors begin start talking to neighbors, we are
going to have a difficult time.”
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
section 107, any copyrighted material
herein is distributed without profit or
payment to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving this
information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only. For more
information go to: