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BOR leads Klamath watershed-wide task to create an all encompassing committee

(The Pioneer Press grants permission for this article to be copied and forwarded.)

Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California

At the top of the state –

Wednesday September 22, 2004

Vol. 32, No. 45
Page A1, column 1

Establishing a Klamath-River-wide committee

-- First of five public meetings was held in Yreka last week.

-- How does a federal agency design a Conservation Implementation Program?

By Liz Bowen, assistant editor, Pioneer Press

YREKA, CALIFORNIA – Already it is controversial, but as the deputy area director of the Bureau of Reclamation responded to questions and comments, she emphasized the need for an entire river-long advisory group. The current name for this work-in-progress is Conservation Implementation Program or CIP for short.

Christine Karas, the deputy director of the Klamath Project, told the group of 60 local residents, "We want to make sure we hear you. To be responsive to your concerns."

Since the 2001 drought and resulting confiscating of irrigation water to 90 percent of the 1,4 00 farmers in the Klamath Basin, everyone has agreed on one issue: The Klamath River situation is complex.

The confiscation of irrigation water was driven by "biological opinions" from federal agencies regarding federally Endangered Species Act listed sucker fish in the Upper Klamath Lake and coho salmon that return to the Klamath River and its tributaries.

Since 2002, water was returned to the nearly 100 year-old Klamath (agricultural farming) Project, which also resulted in several thousand small landowners in and around Klamath Falls receiving water for lawns, gardens and livestock. But the water is still being fought over. Each year is a challenge.

Karas is on the second draft of a proposal for creating the Klamath River watershed-wide committee that will be supported by federal agencies, both with expertise and finances. But there is mistrust by landowners.

"The CIP is needed to coordinate and empower all the groups," said Karas, "so that their collective efforts can bring in more (financial) resources," for recovery projects.

When asked by the Bureau of Reclamation is the lead agency in developing a river-long committee, Karas said, "We can’t meet our customers needs, so we need to resolve this issue. Find better ways to operate."

There are several government-delegated groups already meeting, but Karas said that they each are working on just a "small part" of the Klamath River. There needs to be a committee working on the bigger picture.

Don Howell, president of the Siskiyou Resource Conservation District in Scott Valley, said he was "concerned about a loss of local control," if a committee was developed with federal agencies as the facilitators.

Scott Murphy, a Scott Valley farmer, said that he had reservations, because of possible strings that could attach the independent farmers in California with the federal Klamath Project.

Leo Bergeron, president of the Greenhorn Grange, accused the federal agencies of adding another layer of bureaucracy and feeding a multi-billion dollar industry – government and employee pockets.

"Your bureaucratic system will not work for us," he said and added that the CIP process is based on biological opinions that have not been verified as accurate."

Karas then encouraged Bergeron to get involved in the CIP committee and prove that the suckers really are not endangered.

"Communication up and down the river is a problem," said Karas.

Blair Hart, a Shasta Valley rancher, said that agriculture has "paid a heavy price" and the landowners are on the brink of losing their businesses. "We need something that will keep everybody whole."

Marcia Armstrong offered alternative

At half-time, Siskiyou County Board of Supervisor for District 5, Marcia Armstrong offered an alternative to the organizational process of the proposed CIP.

The county supervisors have agreed to three things: One – In the president form, this is a top-down decision making structure; Two – it duplicated efforts at the state and federal level; Three – the CIP fails to address current individual water rights.

Then she offered an alternative organizational system that may encourage local buy-in. Previously she had met with agricultural leaders from both the Shasta and Scott Valleys.

"It needs to be a bottoms-up approach," she said, which started with local government of board of supervisors and tribes.

One board of supervisor member of each of the five counties involved and one representative from each tribe should make up the coordinating council, she suggested.

Those individuals will in turn listen to their constituents and set priorities on recovery and improvement programs. Agencies would have an advisory roll and would provide the funding.

"This takes out bureaucracies and politics," said Armstrong.

Present CIP draft is available

Contact the local Resource Conservation Districts, Armstrong or the Pioneer Press for a copy of the Klamath River Basin Conservation Implementation Program. The draft can also be emailed by Karas. Contact her at ckaras@mp.usbr.gov or by U.S. mail at 6600 Washburn Way, Klamath Falls, Oregon, 97603.

Four other meetings will be held on Sept. 29, in Arcata; Sept. 30, at the Klamath Community Center in Klamath; Oct. 21, in Chiloquin, Oregon; and Oct. 22, at the Klamath County Fairgrounds in Klamath Falls.






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