Potato Festival Queen Bailey
Johnson, center, and her court wave to
the crowd during the Oct. 21 Potato
Festival parade in Merrill, Ore.
Spud festival brings water talk
Coastal fishermen, Klamath irrigators work
together for solution to water issue
Steve Kadel, Capital Press 10/27/06
MERRILL, Ore. - Oregon coast commercial
fishermen and Klamath Basin irrigators have at
least one common goal - greater water storage
in the upper Klamath Basin.
That was the unanimous sentiment Oct. 21, when
representatives from both industries met in
Merrill during the final day of the annual
Klamath Basin Potato Festival.
"We need additional storage of good, cold
water," Gold Beach fisherman Scott Boley said.
"That would allow better flexibility for
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., was among those at
the table. He agreed that storage is a
critical issue, saying a study of Long Lake as
a possible holding site must accelerate. The
lake, located in a valley west of Klamath
Falls, would provide off-stream storage of
State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls,
added that climate change is forcing the
"Eastern Oregon uses snowpack as a reservoir,"
he said. "That snow is melting earlier and
earlier. We definitely need better water
"It needs to really be looked at," said Greg
Addington, executive director of the Klamath
Water Users Association. "Maybe we could get
more momentum for that."
He said the role of fish hatcheries also must
"What is their role?" Addington asked. "Are
they working or are they not?"
A shortage of returning natural fall chinook
salmon on the Klamath River all but canceled
the commercial fishing season this year. The
ocean closure drew farmers and fishermen
together to present a united front for
One of the problems, according to several who
spoke at the meeting, are biological opinions
from federal agencies that mandate Klamath
River flow levels and set minimum levels for
Upper Klamath Lake, the largest reservoir in
the federal Klamath Reclamation Project.
Three fish, Klamath River coho salmon and two
sucker fish native to upper basin lakes and
rivers, are under protection of the Endangered
"Our biological opinions are such that on a
certain date you need a certain amount of
water," said Dick Carleton, a Merrill farmer.
Instead, the needs of irrigators and fishermen
should dictate flow levels, he said. Federal
agencies are under court order to renegotiate
the coho biological opinion.
Walden said sea lion predation of salmon is
part of the problem. He pledged to seek
legislation allowing some sort of action
against sea lions. They enjoy federal
protection against killing and harassment
under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.
"We stand with our hands tied behind our back
while the sea lions have a feast" at the mouth
of the Klamath River, Walden said.
He believes there is a window of opportunity
to get help in solving water issues throughout
the Klamath Basin. That's because the Bush
administration understands the complex issue,
Walden said, but the next administration -
whether Republican or Democrat - would need
time to get up to speed.
Walden likened this year's curtailment of the
commercial salmon fishing season to the 2001
water shutoff for Klamath Project irrigators.
Those two industries have come together this
year in a series of cooperative meetings to
find common ground.
"When it comes to decision-making we really
haven't had a voice," Carleton said. "We hope
to change that."