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Basin bucks budget trend


Nearly $63 million is earmarked in President Bush's proposed 2006 Interior Department budget for Klamath Basin water issues.

The request is an 8.4 percent increase from the current fiscal year's budget, which Interior spokesmen say shows Bush's commitment to finding long-term solutions to Basin water issues.

"Obviously, Klamath continues to be an important issue for this administration," Interior spokesman Hugh Vickery said Friday. "This is a tight budget year for a lot of programs, so the fact we're asking for an increase is significant."

Vickery said the $62.9 million request, if approved, will help Interior work with state and local interests "to address the long-term water quality and water supply challenges in the Basin, while enhancing fish populations, addressing the water needs of national wildlife refuges and the interests of tribes, and providing irrigation water to farmers."

The proposed budget would fund a variety of ongoing and new projects, including removal of Chiloquin Dam, water supply enhancement and water banking, acquisition and restoration of the Barnes Ranch, and landowners assistance in wetland and upland restoration efforts.

"I think it follows back to the administration's commitment to resolve water issues," said Steve Kandra, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, which represents Basin irrigators.

"President Bush is keeping
his commitment to support and focus the efforts of federal agencies to work with the people of the Klamath Basin to restore the basin's ecosystem while fostering a strong economy," Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said in a statement.

In addition, Bush's proposed Agriculture Department budget seeks more than $25 million to support Basin farmers and ranchers.

"This investment will enable farmers, ranchers and other private land managers to continue addressing high priority resource issues in the watershed," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a statement. "President Bush is committed to value-added investment in conservation and this year's budget will help landowners continue to contribute to the economic well-being of the area through more efficient use of water and help preserve wetlands and wildlife habitat, in the face of very difficult resource management issues."

Rep. Greg Walden, whose congressional district includes the Upper Klamath Basin, also praised Bush.

"Since the water crisis came to the nation's attention in 2001," Walden said, "the president has consistently directed substantial assistance to foster projects vital to improving water quality and quantity in the Basin as well as tended to the needs of farmers and ranchers who had their water unjustly shut off by the government. As the National Academy of Sciences concluded, the government got it wrong in 2001. The president has personally seen to making things better.

Walden has pressed for items such as the Chiloquin Dam removal. He also cited further screening work on the A Canal, $50 million in water conservation funds and money for "refunding operations and maintenance fees to farmers and ranchers that paid for something they didn't get."

The proposed budget would increase U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding in the Basin to $18.7 million, a 139 percent increase. The proposal includes $7.5 million through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program to assist landowners in habitat restoration by funding the restoration of 497 acres of wetlands, 355 acres of upland habitat and 16 miles of stream and shoreline.

"Good, good," Kandra said. "That is where I think the work needs to be done."

Also included is $6 million to buy the Barnes Ranch near Upper Klamath Lake, which would improve water quality and restore fish populations. Kandra said studies show the acquisition will benefit irrigators, "and we're for that gain. It will give us (irrigators) more operational flexibility and assurances."

Under the proposed budget, the Bureau of Reclamation would finance studies and initiatives to improve water supplies for irrigation, wildlife refuges and Tribal trust obligations; continue a water bank; and coordinate its Conservation Implementation Program.

Felice Pace, social services director for the Yurok Tribe and former executive director of the Klamath Forest Alliance, said there was too much focus on upper Klamath Basin farmers.

"I don't see tribes mentioned in it," he said, claiming farmers have received large amounts of money in recent years. "Where's the balance? Where's the lower Basin? Where's salmon?"

Vickery noted that Bush's budget for the current year proposed money for various Klamath Basin projects that were later eliminated by Congress, which will review and make decisions on actual funding.

"Congress is the one that makes the decisions on what get approved," he said. "It's really in their hands."


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