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Dam removal tops governor's agenda

Tam Moore, Capital Press 10/20/06

Two governors, already on record as favoring removal of hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, last week joined the call for a state-federal-stakeholder meeting to resolve water allocation and other issues.

"We're committed to reaching a long-term settlement for the upper Klamath. Re-licensing or decommissioning these dams must be the first issue addressed," said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski in a joint news release with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"It seems only appropriate that dam removal be explored as part of the discussion and quite frankly, as part of the eventual solution to restore Klamath River health," said Schwarzenegger.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., in July called on three federal cabinet secretaries to hold a Klamath summit. In an Oct. 13 interview, Walden said despite favorable staff contacts by the states and the secretaries of Interior and Commerce, it doesn't seem likely a meeting will come "before the first of the year."

Both governors supported Walden's summer effort to get the top feds to the table. Walden's congressional district includes the Oregon side of the 10 million-acre basin shared with California.

A federal cutoff of irrigation water during the drought of 2001 turned the national spotlight on Klamath water. Then a massive fish kill in 2002, followed by this summer's near total closure of commercial salmon fishing, kept the pressure on.

The 100-year old Klamath Reclamation Project that irrigates about 200,000 acres of cropland and pasture straddling the state line is a frequent target in a round of lawsuits and press releases flowing since three Klamath fish species went under protection of the Endangered Species Act. Stored project water turns the downstream electric generators.

The 50-year hydroelectric license for PacifiCorp dams expired earlier this year. Federal agencies proposed reopening the river to salmon as a condition of any new license. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff recommends a trap-and-haul system to get around three dams located in California. Downstream American Indian tribes with treaty rights to fish want outright dam removal, and so do Schwarzenegger and Kulongoski.

Walden, who's taken no position on the dams, wants multiple issues resolved. He said President Bush wants action by federal officials.

"He's very supportive personally," Walden said in summarizing a September meeting with Bush.

However, three of the president's cabinet secretaries - under presidential order to return by 2003 with a long-range plan to fix the Klamath's multiple issues - left office without delivering. One, former Interior Secretary Gale Norton also made a pact with the governors two years ago this month. It hasn't resulted in any public meetings.

A blueprint for the summit's success already exists, said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance and former executive director of Klamath Water Users Association.

He noted the Klamath River Watershed Coordinated Management Agreement was crafted two years ago with participation by Kulongoski and Schwarzenegger, along with U.S. departments of Agriculture, Interior and Commerce and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The document calls for agencies to allocate all available resources for short-term recovery in hopes of avoiding year-to-year water crises in the Klamath Basin. The agreement also calls for public and private groups to work cooperatively to recover endangered and threatened fish species.

"I am hoping they'll go back and take a hard look at that agreement, and use it as a framework," Keppen said. "I'm glad this is happening. It's a welcome sign, and I'm hoping the momentum from two years ago is revived."

Walden, the veteran of Klamath negotiations, said whether the summit is before year's end, or after the new year begins, "it's going to take more than one meeting" to resolve contentious issues.

Lonn Hoklin, Kulongoski's communications director, said "very positive" conversations between state and federal staff indicate "a genuine desire" to resolve Klamath issues.

Howard McConnell, another veteran of Klamath issues, and chairman of the tribal council for the downstream Yurok Tribe, praised the governors for weighing in on a summit.

"I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work with the governors and other stakeholders ... to remove these worthless fish-killing dams," McConnell said in a news release.

Meanwhile Klamath observers wondered about timing. There are two years left in the Bush administration. Both Schwarzenegger and Kulongoski face stiff opposition in their efforts to get re-elected. Walden, a favorite to win re-election, plans to meet with both commercial fishermen and farmers before the Oct. 21 Potato Festival parade in Merrill, Ore., a key community that suffered in the 2001 water cutoff.

FERC is expected to take up conditions of PacifiCorp licenses early next year, after comments to a draft environmental impact statement are reviewed. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, operator of the Klamath Project, is shopping what could be the final draft of what it calls a conservation implementation plan, and resident basin stakeholders plan their biennial gathering next month to sort out issues and hear from scientists researching pieces of the complex natural resource puzzle.

Correspondent Steve Kadel reported from Klamath Falls, Ore. Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.
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