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A news story and an editorial regarding the signing of the recent Klamath River Watershed Coordination Agreement follow:

Herald and News: Klamath Falls, Oregon


Hands across the Basin


High-level federal officials and the governors of Oregon and California have signed an agreement to work toward a solution for the Klamath Basin water struggle.

"Today, we realize the importance of planning and coordinating to overcome problems in the Klamath Basin for the long term," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Wednesday. "This gives us a basis for federal and state cooperation."

In the agreement are the U.S. departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the two states, with the two governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ted Kulongoski, behind the effort.

The agreement creates the Klamath River Watershed Coordination Group, which will be co-chaired by designated representatives from the two states.

Norton said the goal is to end the long legal struggle that poisons relationships among people in the Klamath Basin.

"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," she said.

According to the agreement, members of the group will:

n Put a priority on their Basin activities, working with one another, tribes, governments, private groups and individuals, to resolve water problems - recovering endangered and threatened fishes, improving and protecting habitat and providing water for irrigation.

n Implement an aggressive, coordinated approach to allocate existing resources to the extent possible toward short-term opportunities that will improve conditions in the Basin, reducing the likelihood of year-to-year crises in the Basin.

n Develop and implement the Basin Conservation Implementation Plan, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation program, which will meld a scientific oversight group, the interests in the Basin, and resource agencies, to identify the Basin's critical water and wildlife problems; then set priorities and goals in resolving the problems.

"It's a way, for the first time, of getting the whole Basin focused on all of the issues in some kind of cohesive manner," said Dave Sabo, manager of the Klamath Project.

He said the agreement makes it important for stakeholders and other interests in the Basin to participate in the implementation plan process if they want to try to get what they want. But, the agreement doesn't mean there is an immediate solution.

"It's going to take a long time, it took us 100 years to get into this problem in Klamath," Sabo said. "Hopefully, it won't take as long to get out of it."

A spokesman for irrigators said the agreement sets up a way for the various interests to work toward a solution.

"This is going to be the forum to solve this problem - this is where it is going to happen," said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association.

He said fragmentation has been an impediment to progress, and the variety of forums, committees and planning meetings that interested parties can choose to be a part of, or not to be a part of, has widened some rifts instead of bringing the groups closer.

Keppen said the new agreement makes the Basin a priority for Oregon, California and the United States and makes the Bureau's implementation plan process a key part of finding solutions.

Allen Foreman, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, called it "a very important move."

He said all issues will need to be the table to make the implementation plan process work, including reducing demand for water. The tribes have claims on Basin water and aspirations for a new reservation.

The agreement expands on the last federal attempt to get agencies to work together on the Basin water issue. Norton was appointed chair of the cabinet-level Klamath River Basin Group by President Bush on March 1, 2002.

Bob Hunter, staff attorney for the conservation group WaterWatch, said the president's group was formed with much fanfare but then has done little to help solve problems in the Basin.

"We need more than just an announcement," he said. "We need to get focused on addressing the underlying problem." He said that problem is the overallocation of water - too many promises and not enough water to go around.

He also questioned the timing of the announcement, saying it could be a political move.

"I hope this is not just another statement of 'we are coming together' before the election and then we don't see anything," he said.

Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said he is guardedly optimistic. He said fragmentation among federal and state agencies has been a curse to all involved in the water issue.

"Now the hard part is, what are they going to do?" he said. "This is a good step in the right direction, but there are many long steps to be taken before we have a change for the better for restoration in the Basin."


States' presence key part of water process

Herald and News

Pat Bushey -- editorial

Friday, October 15, 2004

The right people are stepping up to deal with Klamath Basin water issues, and they carry with them a stronger hope that solutions are possible.

It may be a dream, given the conflicting demands on the Klamath River, but it's a reasonable one, and it's pushed along by the realization that everyone suffers when water management is determined by whatever happens to be the latest crisis.

The federal government has overpromised the water, and has put itself in the position of trying to help different varieties of fish by both holding water in Upper Klamath Lake and releasing it downriver, and at the same time fulfilling historical and legal commitments to Klamath Basin irrigators.

It's a mess that calls for Basinwide solutions and a realization that most of the interests are going to have to give something up in order to get something they need.

This week federal officials and the governors of Oregon and California signed an agreement that puts a stronger focus on solving Klamath Basin water problems by creating a Klamath River Watershed Coordination Group. Co-chairs will be representatives from the two states. That the chairpersons represent state government, instead of the federal government, is a big point in the group's favor. We think it keeps its activities closer to the people it affects, whether they're Klamath Basin irrigators or Northern California fishermen. It helps, at least in the Upper Klamath Basin, that Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has shown a strong interest in the Basin and support for efforts to end the conflicts.

The agreement emphasizes getting the various interests working together and establishing a Basinwide Conservation Implementation Plan. OK, it's another plan, and we've had other plans and studies, but this one includes heavy involvement by state government in California and Oregon. That's important, and that's been lacking in the past.

This new process also puts the onus on stakeholders all through the Basin to get actively involved. There will be opportunities to do so as a plan is developed. The process won't be easy or quick. The problems are complex. But giving state government in Oregon and California major roles should greatly strengthen the chances of reaching long-term solutions.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board. Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial.



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