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Irrigators wrangle over Water Users membership

by Lacey Jarrell, Herald and News 1/15/16

Members of Klamath Irrigation District are still debating whether they want to remain in the Klamath Water Users Association.

At a KID board meeting Thursday, board members voted to table the decision to pay the annual Water Users fee for 2016.

According to district manager Mark Stuntebeck, if the fee isn’t paid by the Jan. 31 due date, the district may jeopardize its Water Users membership. Irrigators participating in Water Users’ member districts pay $5.50 per irrigated acre. The 2016 KID annual budget states the cost for KID irrigators is $238,168.

According to the Water Users’ website, the organization has represented Klamath Project farmers since 1953, and has lobbied for the Klamath ag sector in several arenas, including water quality and quantity, government relations and power costs. Water Users activities are guided by a board of directors made up of representatives from dues-paying districts.

Representative appointed

Water Users’ member districts appoint a board member and an alternate to represent their interests in the association. Although the KID board is undecided whether it will remain a member, it voted to appoint Brent Cheyne as the Water Users representative. Grant Knolls was voted as the alternate.

KID farmer Josh Dubois asked the board to consider allowing a planning committee to come up with a few alternate candidates to represent KID at the Water Users. He suggested the KID board could vote on the recommendations at the next board meeting.

Board members did not respond to Dubois’ request.

Farmer Dave Oxley said he’s been complaining for four or five years that he doesn’t think his money is well spent with Water Users.

“I can’t say I’m against the Water Users, but I can say that I’m not for them, in the fact that they don’t include all of Klamath County. Every adjudicated, irrigated acre in Klamath County should be included,” said Oxley. “If it’s not good for everybody, it’s not good.”

Water Users bylaws

Luther Horsely said he believes his money is well spent with Water Users. Horsely agreed that Water Users should be open to more of the county’s farmers. He wondered aloud if the Water Users bylaws need to be rewritten.

“I agree with you that everybody does need to be involved,” Horsely said to Oxley. “But you have no voice without Water Users. That why I think (KID) needs to stay in Water Users.”

Rob Unruh said he’s not confident now is the right time to expand Water Users.

“If we can’t get our local districts together, how can we reach out to the off-Project?” Unruh asked. “The backlash of KID’s first withdrawal from Water Users took its political clout in the Klamath Basin and nullified it.”

‘Dump’ urgency

Jerry Enman said said he’s curious to know why it appears there’s a sense of urgency for KID “dump” Water Users. He suggested waiting a few months until Water Users hires a new director — former director Greg Addington resigned in December — to see if Water Users takes a new direction.

Horsely pointed out that KID meeting documents identify the 2013 joint biological opinion as having a significant impact on water deliveries to the Klamath Project.

The 10-year joint biological opinion was published by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It provides guidelines for water levels required to support threatened coho salmon and endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers in the Klamath watershed.

Stuntebeck explained that the public, including irrigators and their districts, are usually not involved in developing biological opinions. He said an exception was made during the development of the 2013 opinion, when Water Users was invited to sit in on the discussion.


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