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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Attached are local, regional and national news articles regarding yesterday's announcement of the historic Klamath River Watershed Coordination Agreement:
1. Associated Press
2. Los Angeles Times
3. The Oregonian (Portland)
4. Eureka Times-Standard
5. Redding Record Searchlight
States, federal government agree on Klamath Basin plan
Associated Press - 10/14/04
By Matthew Daly, staff writer
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration and the governors of California and Oregon said Wednesday they have agreed to work together to resolve water issues in the drought-starved Klamath Basin.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton said the agreement would help the two states and four federal agencies as they work with farmers, Indian tribes, fishermen, conservationists and other groups that use the chronically dry basin along the California-Oregon border.

"The people of the Klamath Basin cherish the land and its natural beauty and desire to hand their way of life down to future generations," Norton said. "Together, we have an opportunity to work toward a vision that includes clear waters, abundant fisheries, increased waterfowl, a vibrant agricultural community and an end to the legal fighting ... which continues to poison the relationships among its people."

The new Klamath River Watershed Coordination Agreement expands on a 2 and 1/2-year-old effort among federal agencies that deal with Klamath issues. A Cabinet-level working group, headed by Norton, includes representatives of the Interior, Commerce and Agriculture departments, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Leaders of all four agencies have pledged to work together to ensure that farmers in the Klamath Basin have access to sufficient water, while complying with Indian trust obligations and protecting salmon and other threatened fish.

The new agreement builds on that work by including the two states in the process, Norton and other speakers said in a teleconference with reporters.

In a change, the states will take a lead role on Klamath issues, and federal agencies will join them as they try to resolve disputes over water quantity and quality, as well as fish and wildlife resource problems, Norton said. No federal or state agency will give up any budgetary or other authority as a result of the agreement.

California Resources Secretary Michael Chrisman said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was happy to participate in the agreement, which comes as groups fighting over the future of the basin are inching toward a long-elusive compromise. Groups including American Indian tribes, commercial fishermen and conservationists said at a forum in August they are tired of battling each other and hope to move closer to long-term solutions.

"This agreement, as envisioned, is one we think will get us where we need to be as we address these very difficult issues," Chrisman said.

Two years ago, more than 35,000 salmon died on the Klamath River due to low water, the largest such fish kill in memory.

The die-off occurred a year after Klamath Basin farmers pried open irrigation gates and formed a bucket brigade to dump water into irrigation ditches after the government cut off water to benefit salmon and other fish. Norton's subsequent decision to divert water from the Klamath River to 1,400 farms was criticized by environmentalists and tribal leaders, who said it was the reason for the 2002 fish kill.

In recent months, however, progress has been made, with $16 million spent on habitat restoration; more water released down the Trinity and Klamath rivers to prevent a repeat of the 2002 die-off; and increased monitoring and research.

David Van't Hof, an adviser to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, called the new agreement an important step to solve what Kulongoski believes is a crucial issue for Oregon.

"He thinks it's important to see a more collective vision and collaborative effort" in the basin, Van't Hof said. "We see this as an opportunity to move that forward."#

U.S., States Vow to Fix River Use

Los Angeles Times - Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A new federal pact with California and Oregon aims to end a long standoff over sharing Klamath water among tribes, farmers and fishermen.

By Eric Bailey, Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO Resolving to end one of the West's fiercest water wars, the Bush administration forged an agreement Wednesday with Oregon and California to cooperatively solve squabbling over the drought-racked Klamath River.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton said the new partnership should help ease tensions among farmers, Indian tribes, environmentalists and fishermen over management of the river, home to endangered coho salmon and two species of suckerfish in Upper Klamath Lake.

"We'll try to find synergies, instead of stumbling over each other's work," said Norton, speaking during a telephone news conference while on other business in Duluth, Minn.

Environmentalists said the announcement three weeks before the Nov. 2 election seemed intended to help President Bush curry voter favor in Oregon, a battleground state. Bush is slated to visit Oregon this week.

Jim McCarthy, an Oregon Natural Resources Council analyst, called the move by Norton "a smokescreen" to defuse "uncomfortable questions" during Bush's visit.

McCarthy said federal officials have made little progress to resolve the Klamath dispute, which exploded during the summer of 2001 when farmers saw their water supplies slashed to help the endangered fish.

But farmers in the Klamath Basin, a fertile swath of 200,000 acres straddling California's northern border, applauded Norton's announcement.

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Assn., said efforts to solve problems with endangered species and water allocation along the Klamath have been hamstrung by fragmented management of the Klamath, once the nation's third most productive river for salmon.

"We have two states, a strong federal presence, four tribes, competing agricultural users, and a vigilant environmental community," Keppen said. "Plus ties to Central Valley agriculture. Plus five national wildlife refuges."

He said the new agreement boosts chances of finding solutions that encompass the entire watershed. "While it would seem intuitively obvious that a coordinated approach is needed, amazingly, this approach had not materialized," Keppen said.

Klamath farmers, who have borne the brunt of the impact as wildlife agencies have scrambled to ensure the survival of the coho and endangered suckerfish, are eager to see timber firms, commercial fishermen, cattle ranchers and farmers along other rivers that feed the Klamath play a role in restoration efforts.

The cooperation agreement was signed by Norton, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat. The plan spells out few responsibilities and allocates no additional money.

Bush has budgeted $105 million toward the Klamath next year, including habitat conservation, water banking and wetlands protection.

Klamath Basin deal signed

State and federal officials create a group to seek cooperative solutions to the region's water problems

The Oregonian - Thursday, October 14, 2004


State and federal officials Wednesday unveiled a new pact promising to seek coordinated solutions to the Klamath Basin's emotional water battles and to avoid crises such as the loss of farm irrigation water during the 2001 drought.

The agreement was signed by the governors of Oregon and California and by Bush Cabinet officials who said it commits government at all levels to restore threatened fish and take other steps to ease the overlapping demands for water.

"The Klamath Basin plays an important role in Oregon's economy and environmental heritage, but for too long, the efforts to balance the needs of the various interests have been divisive, not unified as they need to be," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said.

The pact creates a Klamath Basin Coordination Group, headed by state representatives from Oregon and California and including officials of involved federal agencies. Parties to the five-year agreement pledge to "work diligently" to recover fish, improve the basin's deteriorated water quality and provide water for irrigation and other beneficial uses.

"This is the kick-start we needed," said Dave Sabo, manager of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's office in Klamath Falls. "If people don't want to play, they're going to get left behind at the station."

A similar approach was useful in resolving disputes over fish restoration in the Colorado River system, he said. The agreement encourages agencies to set priorities cooperatively and then seek funding and support with a unified voice, instead of working in piecemeal fashion.

A scientific review by the National Research Council last year urged better coordination among agencies that it said sometimes work at cross purposes.

Klamath farmers applauded the deal as a move away from continued conflict and toward more cooperative solutions. But conservation groups were skeptical, saying similar panels created in the past had failed to find lasting answers.

For more information, go to www.doi.gov/news/041013d.

Feds, states to work together on Klamath conundrum


The Eureka Times-Standard
By John Driscoll


An agreement among the federal government and the states of California and Oregon aims to be a nexus for solutions in the Klamath Basin, but many are skeptical that it can result in real-world changes.

The agreement was announced Wednesday by U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton, California Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman and Oregon Natural Resources Adviser David Van't Hof . The Klamath River Watershed Coordination Agreement appears to be a vehicle for cooperation between state and federal agencies dealing with the complex fish, wildlife and agriculture quandaries in the basin.

The agreement comes with no funding or financial obligations, but instead calls for a coordinated approach to allocating existing resources. It is to work hand-in-hand with a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation program, called the Conservation Implementation Program, which has been undergoing public scrutiny at recent meetings.

In a teleconference, Norton said the harsh conflicts in the basin stemmed in large part from everyone in the basin vying for a limited supply of water.

"We had not been planning ahead," Norton said. "We had not foreseen all the problems that would have arisen. Today, we're able to plan."

She said the agreement could insulate the basin from the year-to-year conflicts plaguing agriculture, fish and wildlife refuges.

Chrisman said collaboration with communities and tribes will help meld the science and information being developed in the basin.

How exactly such an agreement would affect on-the-ground realities -- like disagreements over flows for fish and water deliveries for agriculture -- is unknown. Some doubted genuine solutions, especially for communities on the lower river, would result.

"There's a lot of discussion about collaboration, coordination and compromise," said longtime fisheries scientist Bill Kier. "But the fundamental fact of life in the Klamath Basin is that it's overcommitted and oversubscribed by government programs."

He wondered if such an agreement might restrain the agencies involved. For example, in the case of the State Water Resources Control Board's insistence that hydropower dam operator PacifiCorp mitigate water quality problems before certifying its dams.

Yurok Tribe Executive Director Troy Fletcher said he's supportive of the states and federal agencies working together, but is concerned it will only continue the status quo. The tribe also supports the restoration activities that might occur through such an arrangement, he said, but remains focused on water as the key to a healthy salmon fishery.

"The projects don't pay dividends unless there's water in the river," Fletcher said.

The bureau's Klamath Falls area manager Dave Sabo said he believes the agreement will lead to more coordination that may point out that flows aren't the end-all to restoration.

"I could shut the irrigation project down and it's not going to solve the problems of the Klamath basin," Sabo said.

But the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have pointed to low flows as the main -- if not the only -- culprit in the 2002 fish kill. That September, up to 68,000 chinook salmon died in the river. That came after years of reduced fishing quotas along the West Coast, set because of the river's weak stocks.

Dan Keppen of the Klamath Water Users Association, which represents irrigators in the federal irrigation project on the central California-Oregon borders, saw reason to be optimistic. He said the time is ripe for such an arrangement, citing both states' governors' interest in finding solutions for the basin's woes.

"I just think it sends a pretty strong signal that that's where people should spend their time," Keppen said. "I think we need that."

Asked if the announcement, which affects the swing state of Oregon, was related to the upcoming presidential election, Norton said the agreement was bipartisan and not political.

Feds call for cooperation on regional water issues


Redding Record Searchlight

Ales Breitler

Wednesday, October 14, 2004

Three years after water was shut off to Klamath Basin farmers, the Bush administration on Wednesday announced an agreement for state and federal governments to "cooperate" in solving the region's seemingly endless water woes.

There are few specifics in the two-page agreement, but Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton called it a step toward recovering endangered fish in the basin while still providing water for agriculture, wetlands and other needs.

During her announcement less than three weeks before the election, Norton admitted the government hadn't anticipated the water crisis. Conservationists have said it was brewing for years, although it didn't grab national headlines until 2001.

"We had not been planning ahead," Norton said. "We had not foreseen all of the problems that would have arisen."

Massive wetlands were drained a century ago to make room for thousands of gridlike farms in the semi-arid, high-elevation basin. A tenuous balance in water supply existed until 2001, when many farms were cut off to help protect endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and coho salmon downstream in the Klamath River.

The next year, farmers got their water back while at least 34,000 fish died in the river due in part to low flows.

In recent years the basin has swirled with hostility, with many of the players -- including farmers, conservationists and American Indians -- unwilling even to talk to each other.

The new agreement establishes a State and Federal Klamath Basin Coordination Group, co-chaired by representatives from the state governments of Oregon and California. The basin straddles both states, and both will now have more of a role in basin policy.

The group will also include representatives from the departments of Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Members will be charged with communicating with each other as well as with other interests in the basin, with the goal of resolving water quantity and quality problems.

It'll also be their job to find money for the projects. The agreement doesn't require any of the agencies to enter any "financial obligations."

The idea sounds good, said Bob Hunter of the conservation group WaterWatch. But any solution that doesn't include reducing the demand for water isn't likely to work, he said.

Hunter and other conservationists say the government should buy farmland from willing sellers so that less water is needed in the agricultural community.

"If we're going to get out of the water crisis in the basin, it's going to take coordination," he said. "But the reality is this administration has elected to protect one interest and support one interest (agriculture) over all others."

Dan Keppen, spokesman for the Klamath Water Users Association, called the agreement "hugely important." Simply shutting off water to farmers won't solve the problem, he said.

"The bottom line is we want these fish recovered so they're taken off the list so our operations aren't impacted," he said. "We're never going to get there if we're in this litigious, fragmented nature."

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