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Drought, disputes put water at premium
  Uncertain supply, delayed opinion point to tough year
  by DEVAN SCHWARTZ, Herald and News 6/2/13 
     Irrigation season in the Klamath Basin has many moving parts — and a series of disputes aren’t making this one any simpler.

   Mark Stuntebeck, Klamath Irrigation District Manager, said farmers are planting their crops under the uncertainty of a drought year’s limited water supplies.

   More than six weeks overdue, a joint biological opinion being finalized between federal agencies will ultimately determine Klamath Project operations — the amount of water to be made available.

   Amid a declared drought, water supplies are at a premium. The contentiousness of water allocations was epitomized in 2001’s water shutoff and 2006’s fisheries closure, each leading to significant economic and cultural impacts.  

   And though water adjudication is now enforceable after decades of legal dealings, contestants have already filed three challenges in circuit court.

   Adjudication is managed by the Oregon Water Resources Department, against whom the Yurok Tribe has raised a challenge for not following the Endangered Species Act.

   A similar claim by the Karuk Tribe challenges the use of algaecides by the power utility operating Klamath River hydroelectric dams.

   However, settlement agreements formed among parties including tribes, federal agencies and water users keep the legal system from getting immediately involved.

   “A lot of these issues in the past turned into legal arguments in the courtroom or public relation attacks or sparring back and forth,” said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association.
       “The idea is that the groups who signed on to these settlement agreements don’t agree on everything and wanted a way to iron things out,” Addington said.

   The same isn’t true for a threatened lawsuit by conservation groups against the Bureau of Reclamation, whose current operations they say will short salmon in a year with an expected high fall river run.

   Oregon Wild’s conservation director Steve Pedery said Reclamation reduced flows in the river without consulting relevant fisheries agencies.  

   Pedery said the 60-day notice of intent to sue expires in early June, and the groups are now deciding whether to pursue legal action.

   “We are still waiting for the finalization and completion of the joint biological opinion,” said Tara Jane Campbell-Miranda, natural resource specialist with the Bureau of Reclamation.

   “Just waiting isn’t acceptable from the perspective of a fish,” Pedery said. “We want to see the consultation completed and to see whether the science supports these flows.”  

   Campbell-Miranda responded by saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service were very involved in the development of Reclamation’s current operations plan.

   USFWS spokesman Matt Baun added that the delayed Joint Biological Opinion should be expected in the near future.

   “We’re on pins and needles here because we’ve had to make decisions about water supplies. There are crops in the ground,” Addington said.


  H&N file photo    Mark Stuntebeck, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District, stands near the Klamath Reclamation Project’s C Canal. Stuntebeck says farmers are planting crops under the uncertainty of limited water supplies. A joint biological opinion that is more than six weeks overdue will determine the amount of water made available.



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