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County, state tussle over water regulations.
Public works director to sit on water advisory
  By HOLLY DILLEMUTH, Herald and News 9/20/14
  H&N photo by Holly Dillemuth

   Klamath Falls City Councilman Bill Adams speaks about his frustrations with a proposed Oregon Water Resources Department rule on Thursday during a question and answer session at Oregon Tech.

     State water officials heard from ranchers, local government representatives and Klamath Basin residents Thursday night, giving a chance for those in attendance to air concerns about a state-proposed change to water regulation.

   Acting Director of Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) Tom Paul and Oregon Water Commission (OWC) Chairman John Roberts took questions, and heard public comment for more than an hour at Oregon Tech on the issue of a temporary proposed rule impacting the Klamath Basin slated to expire Sept. 27. Klamath County commissioner Tom Mallams spoke in opposition to the proposed rule change  

   According to the state, the proposed rule would authorize the Oregon Water Commission to prioritize water usage to stock water and water used for human consumption. A rules advisory committee is being established to identify how to move forward with the proposed rule, a committee which will include the city’s Public Works Director Mark Willrett.

   “He’ll be providing input to make sure that the rules comport with the city’s interest,” said Kyle Gorman, South Central Region Manager for OWRD.

   City representation

   Gorman said it may be possible to include more city representation on the committee on an alternating basis.  

   “We’re trying to develop a set of draft rules that a rules advisory committee could grab a hold of and start work on to make recommendations to the agency,” Paul said.

   “The commission is considering whether or not to establish those two uses as preference.”

   Paul said a meeting to vote on whether to approve the temporary rules is scheduled for Sept. 25, two days before the temporary rules expire Sept. 27.

   “All that Oregon water law looks at is the data priority, and during times of shortage, junior water right-holders are regulated off to satisfy senior (water right-holders),” Paul said. “Under drought conditions, the Legislature said that the commission could identify human consumption and stock (water) as preference over all other uses. Will there be an impact to flow and other water rights?   Probably, because people that would otherwise be regulated off would now be allowed to divert again for those two purposes.”

   Klamath Falls City Councilwoman Trish Seiler asked if the rules could impact two city wells:   Fremont and Wocus.

   “They certainly could be (impacted) because this proposed rule that’s being discussed tonight allows a preference for human consumption,” Paul said. “Without this rule in place, if the city receives a regulation notice and is required to turn off their well, then all of the water has to be turned off. With this rule in place, the city would still be allowed to divert the portion of water that they pump that goes directly to human consumption water. Without it, they could not, if they were regulated.”


   City attorney Joanna Lyons-Antley expressed that the city’s initial reaction to the proposed rule was of misunderstanding.  

   “I think you’ve made it clear tonight that the city of Klamath Falls is one of the intended beneficiaries from this rule, and for that we do appreciate it,” said Lyons-Antley. “The primary confusion with the audience, and with the average person, is this merging of surface and groundwater. I think with some clarification in the rules, it’s only when those items are regulated.

   “We still have concerns, and I think that including us with the rules committee will be tremendously helpful,” she added.

   Others were not reassured by the proposed rule, but frustrated by it, such as Sprague River resident Brandon Topham.  

   “I look at it as an unneeded rule, no other county has it,” Topham told water officials. “If no other county has it, why do we need it?

   “Seems to me in this process, you guys have singled out Klamath County as an area where the irrigators have limited resources financially to fight things,” he added. “You’re picking on us.”

   Brandon’s mother, Virginia Topham, of Flying T Ranch, Sprague River, expressed similar thoughts.

   “Why do you have a vendetta against us?” she said. “OWRD continues to turn off groundwater and surface water at the same time with no verifiable proof of interference.

   “I demand the OWRD return to verifiable science-driven rules.”

   Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams, also an irrigator, spoke in opposition to the proposed rule change.

   “This is what I feel is nothing more than trying to put pressure on everybody trying to agree to a settlement that’s very iffy, lacks a lot of support,” Mallams said. “There is some support … because they have been pushed into a corner, and a gun to their head, as far as I’m concerned, by Oregon Water Resources and our federal government.  

   “Water resources in the past has been the champion for irrigated agriculture,” he added. “I feel they’re one of our worst enemies, and that’s very disheartening.”

   Mallams also read a statement from State Rep. Gail Whitsett on her behalf: “We find no viable reason or justification for this permanent rule to apply only to the Klamath River Watershed in Klamath County,” read the statement.

   Some in favor

   Others spoke out in favor of the proposed rule changes, such as Linda Long, chairwoman of the Modoc Point Irrigation District. She believes the proposed rule changes could help the district.

   “Our district is very much in need of water beyond Sept. 27,” Long said. “The cattle stay there and there’s cattle that come back in for any extra feed up to December. We’re in need of that water to continue. There’s no other water for the livestock up there.”

   Andrea Rabe, of Rabe Consulting, a Klamath Falls firm, also spoke in favor of the rule proposals.  

   “People and cows need to drink everyday,” Rabe said. “It’s important to have these rules in place so that we can go and continue with the necessities of livestock and drinking water.”

   Bly rancher Garrett Roseberry also supports the proposed rules change.  

   “Without the drought rule modification, human consumption and livestock water would be regulated at the end of the month,” Roseberry said. “The negative impact to businesses, homeowners, urban municipalities and rural municipalities would be catastrophic.”

   Gorman commented on what could happen if the rules are not adopted.

   “If they don’t adopt the rules, the temporary ones will expire on the 27,” Gorman said.

   “Our department will look at well, what should we do at this point?”

   When asked if that could mean water could be shut off for some, he said it could be a possibility.  

   “If we determine that there is a need shut (off) those uses that are occurring now, because of a senior water right holder not getting the water they’re entitled to, that’s a potential,” Gorman said. “I don’t know if that will occur, though.”

   To learn more, contact District 17 Watermaster Scott White at 541-883-4182.




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