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Mikkelsen visits Basin stakeholders, releases framework for water agreement

The Department of the Interior last week distributed a one-page framework for a long-term agreement aimed at resolving water issues in the Klamath Basin.

Alan Mikkelsen, senior adviser to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on water and western resources, spent Monday and Tuesday meeting with Basin stakeholders about the one-page document, including water users and Klamath Tribes on Tuesday.

Mikkelsen’s job is to facilitate talks with all stakeholders in the Basin to work toward a long-term solution.

The series of stakeholder meetings will set the stage, Mikkelsen said, to receive comments about the framework formerly known as the “skeleton” hopefully by mid-June. It was created by Mikkelsen and a group of congressional leaders who are looking to formulate an agreement for water allocation in the Basin for years to come.

“At the end of the day, everybody wants some sort of certainty, what they can plan for,” Mikkelsen told the Herald and News Wednesday morning.

For water users, some of the most important priorities is water certainty and affordable power for irrigators and irrigation representatives, said Scott White, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association.

White and more than 20 irrigators met with Mikkelsen first thing Monday morning to talk about the skeletal framework, and the road to a long-term agreement.

He was optimistic about the meeting laying groundwork for a solution to ongoing and conflicting needs for water in the Basin.

Within the next month, White and other water users plans to come up with a strategy and talk through priorities within KWUA before mid-June, when Mikkelsen plans a return trip.

“It’s shaping up to start moving,” White said.

White also added that the scenario for water is an “ugly situation” for all parties involved.

“The downstream tribes, the Klamath Tribes — everybody’s feeling the pinch on this year and trying to figure out how this is all going to work,” White said.

Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry declined to comment on the meeting with Mikkelsen or the framework.

Going into the meeting with the Klamath Tribes, Mikkelsen said the Tribes need a robust fishery, in both Upper Klamath Lake and in the Klamath River.

“When we get to a point that fish will prosper, then agriculture can also prosper,” Mikkelsen said. “Right now, we are not at that point.”

In addition to meetings in the Klamath Basin, Mikkelsen said he met separately with downstream tribes and with Upper Basin irrigators in the Medford area on Monday regarding the framework.

“We’ve received input from the downstream tribes on the framework document, and I think they’re all interested in pursuing further discussions about the framework,” Mikkelsen said.

While there seems to be no time limit for facilitated talks by Department of Interior, Mikkelsen hinted that legal actions between parties could hinder efforts moving forward.

“If we go to litigation, all of a sudden Department of Interior is removed from this and this becomes a Department of Justice issue,” Mikkelsen said.

The framework says that a long-term agreement isn’t intended to be a federally driven process, but that it is recognized that federal participation is essential because of the current level of federal influence over resource management, Tribal trust obligations and contractual obligations to water users in the Project.

“Funding, while important, should be secondary to identifying sustainable resource management goals on which local communities can agree,” the outline reads.

“This isn’t a solution for the government,” White said.

“This is a solution for the parties that are affected, so it needs to be crafted in that manner for the parties.”

White said that while the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which dissolved, took roughly a decade to create and implement, he doesn’t envision it taking nearly that long to formulate a new agreement between parties.

“I think the framework, the foundation has already been built,” White said. “And I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel on this.”

The framework

The U.S. Department of Interior distributed a frame work document last week to Klamath Basin stakeholders, including on-Project and Upper Basin irrigators and downstream tribes Hoopa Valley and Yurok as well as Klamath Tribes.

The document is a baseline for a long-term water agreement for the Basin, and lays out six principles guiding what will be added later:

- Provide for self-sustaining fish populations that will lead to delisting of ESA listed species and harvestable levels for Tribes and will support commercial, subsistence, and sport fisheries.

- Provide for sustainable agriculture and other uses that reduce crisis management.

- Provide a sustainable economy for communities in the Basin that are dependent on fish and agriculture.

- Provide a regulatory structure that assists, rather than impedes, implementation of the above principles.

- Provide federal authorization and funding to the extent necessary to address the agreed to principles.

- Sources of non-federal funding should be identified as needed.




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              Page Updated: Friday May 11, 2018 02:47 AM  Pacific

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