Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Power deadline faces PacifiCorp, irrigators
Capital Press Staff Writer 1/6/2006
The one thing that’s certain for irrigators in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Project and stakeholders in the 10 million acre Klamath Basin shared by Oregon and California is that a whole lot of loose ends will be resolved in 2006, one way or another.
The basin has been on uncertain times since the 2001 water crisis that saw BuRec withhold massive quantities of irrigation water, conserving it as habitat for endangered fish during a year of severe drought.
What won’t be fully resolved is adjudication of pre-1909 and federal water rights on the Oregon side of the state line. They are before an administrative law judge and require hearings in circuit court before becoming final.
Here’s a list, not exhaustive, of the Klamath agenda for the coming year:
• Chiloquin Dam, a structure built decades ago by U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, is about to become history. Public comment closes next week on the environmental finding that could lead to removal of the dam after the end of irrigation and installation of pumps to service Modoc Point Irrigation District. At least 25 miles of habitat for endangered sucker fish will become accessible on the Sprague River.
• A U.S. District Court judge in California will decide if she should order new downstream flows on the main Klamath River after the 9th Circuit Court sent back a lawsuit challenging the 2002 NOAA Fisheries biological opinion for protection of endangered coho salmon.
• The long-awaited relicensing of PacifiCorp’s string of hydroelectric plants tied to Klamath Project outflows is due this spring. Within weeks, parties to closed-door settlement negotiations will indicate if there’s a deal or a contest before the Federal Energy Regulating Commission. Among loose ends are a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service position on whether it will insist that fish passage be added as a condition of relicensing, and what PacifiCorp will do about irrigators’ pleas to retain discount electricity used for irrigation and drainage.
PacifiCorp has already said it expects FERC will issue a one-year extension of current license terms while remaining complex issues are resolved.
• A 20-year federal law that had the goal of restoring Klamath River fisheries will pay the final $1 million toward restoration efforts, leaving behind dozens of small projects, piles of planning documents and salmon populations still struggling to remain viable. There’s no indication Congress wants to renew the funding.
• BuRec will issue a third draft of its Conservation Implementation Plan, creating the possibility of a new stakeholder organization that picks up the pieces from the expiring restoration law. Regardless of how that goes, stakeholders plan both a conference on science learned in the past couple of years and some form of organization to complement near-invisible state and state-federal planning efforts.
• The controversial main Klamath River flow study, known as Hardy II after the hydrologist who led years of research, will probably be accepted by BuRec and NOAA Fisheries as guidance for coho water needs. A hydrologic study within the upper basin and a U.S. Geologic Survey review of groundwater will be complete or near completion. And, with all the data in hand, BuRec may take another run at proposing modification to biological opinions of 2002 that guide project operation.
Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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