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Reclamation manager moves on

followed by  A job full of challenges


March 18, 2006 by STEVE KADEL    H&N Staff Writer

It's the most pivotal water allocation position in Oregon and possibly California, too.

At least that's how Dave Sabo sees the job he is leaving at the Bureau of Reclamation. His successor must be able to balance needs of irrigators as well as fish protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The person chosen as the new Klamath Basin area office manager will need patience, courage and be “willing to take on a fight,” Sabo said.

Local irrigators hope the new manager is someone who understands the intricate nature of the Klamath Reclamation Project, which they say is a unique system.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said the group's members consider Sabo's replacement “ a big issue.”

“We want someone who can take a lot of scrutiny,” he said. “From our perspective, they've got to stand up to other agencies and advocate for the use of the reclaimed water.

“It's going to be a tough job. There are a lot of competing interests, and there are a lot of things in the works right now.”

Dan Keppen, a water policy consultant with a long history in the industry, said it took him some time to learn all the ins and outs of the project.

“I just moved here in 2001,” he said, “and I had no idea how complex the Basin is. Once the new person understands how the Klamath Project operates and how different it is from what was here before, that's going to help them.”

Keppen, former executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said Sabo's is the “toughest job in the Western water arena.”

It will take someone who can handle controversy, Keppen said, because there's little chance of satisfying all the competing interests.

“If the irrigators get something, the Tribes are upset and vice versa,” he said. “It will require somebody who is technically sharp and quickly grasps the unique nature of the technical issues and landscape.

“It will take somebody who knows how to work with a vast set of stakeholders.”

Earl Danosky, Tulelake Irrigation District manager, agreed familiarity with the Klamath Project is vital.

Otherwise, it's a steep learning curve, he said.

“That person will have to balance all the issues as best he can,” Danosky said. “Of course, we'd like someone familiar with agricultural issues.”

Sabo's job will be advertised until April 14. No interim manager has been named, although Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Rae Olsen said deputy area manager Christine Karas will play a key role during transition. Salary range for the manager's position is $51,972 to $80,975 annually.

Keppen complimented Sabo for the job he did in Klamath Falls.

“Dave was a problem solver,” Keppen said. “He set into motion a philosophy that it is going to take a watershed-wide approach to solve water issues.

“Dave set that up with his conservation implementation program.”



A job full of challenges

March 18, 2006 by HOLLY OWENS   H&N Staff Writer

The climate in the Basin has changed in the four years Dave Sabo worked as manager of the Klamath Basin Area Office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Opinions about irrigation, the Endangered Species Act and water were often shouted rather than discussed. During his first month on the job, protesters painted outlines of “dead” farmers in the Bureau's parking lot. In October of that year, a dozen dead and decaying salmon were put in the parking lot by protesters from downstream Klamath River tribes.

“It was a real challenge because it was difficult to get a true perspective of what the issues were,” Sabo said. “It just took time to sort it all out.”

Sabo will be leaving Klamath Falls in April to become the new assistant regional director for the Upper Colorado Region of the Bureau of Reclamation in Salt Lake City. As area manager, Sabo directed a range of program activities for the Klamath Project, overseeing operations and maintenance activities and complying with federal and state regulations.

He is moving on to this new challenge for both personal and professional reasons. Five years away from retirement, he says he wants to take advantage of the time he has.

He is sorry to be leaving the Basin, but believes that new blood and creativity will stimulate efforts to find Basinwide solutions.

“Any job gets to a point where you're not making as much headway as you would like,” Sabo said.

Sabo is proud of what the Bureau has accomplished in the last four years.

“We've been able to meet the irrigation deliveries regularly, and meet downstream regulations for fisheries and tribes,” he said. “I think we've done a heck of a job. We've done it fairly.”

And there were some memorable challenges along the way.

Standing before more than 500 farmers at the Klamath County Fairgrounds in March 2003, Sabo presented a program designed to idle farmlands - the Bureau's Pilot Water Bank Program.

“That was a challenge,” he said.

With so many views on water issues, Sabo realized it takes a great deal of understanding for everyone involved.

“You have to kind of empathize with everybody,” he said.

Through meetings with American Indian tribes, he says he learned how extremely important, and difficult the issues can be.

“I really value those, too,” Sabo said. “I really appreciate the situation the tribes find themselves in.”

Sabo would like to see the projects the Bureau started continue. The Conservation Implementation Program will ultimately combine the efforts of all of the stakeholders, Sabo said, instead of the scattered efforts of myriad groups. The program, called the CIP, will allow stakeholders to approach both the state and federal governments as a unified group, enabling them to accomplish more.


“The CIP will solve the problem,” Sabo said. “It's a framework that has worked in other Basins. I think most people would like to see resolution of the issues.”

As assistant regional director in Salt Lake City, Sabo will work with tribal governments and public groups in the seven-state region on critical issues in both the Colorado and Rio Grande river drainages.

Reclamation's Upper Colorado Region includes Utah, New Mexico, parts of Wyoming and Texas west of the Pecos River. Water issues in the region include residential, industrial, agricultural, hydropower generation, environmental and recreational.

New job challenges include a lawsuit over the operations of the Glen Canyon Dam, management of silvery minnows in the Rio Grande, a dam construction project in the region and a variety of other smaller environmental projects, too.

“I have no idea what I'll be thrown into,” Sabo said.

But an advantage, he says, is that he is already familiar with many of the area's issues.

Sabo formerly served as manager of the Colorado River Storage Project Management Center for the Western Area Power Administration in Salt Lake City. He also managed the power administration's environmental and public affairs office, representing the agency in the Glen Canyon Environmental Impact Statement, the Upper Colorado Endangered Fishes Recovery Program, and projects associated with American Indian tribes.

And when he retires he plans to return to a familiar place and familiar faces.

“The neatest thing about Klamath is the people here,” Sabo said. “I really like Klamath and I will probably return here when I retire in five years.”






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