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Federal money for Basin water needs: Part of the solution.

Published Feb. 16, 2004
Budget would provide unprecedented help for Basin watershed by John Keys, guest columnist

This administration's commitment to help Klamath Basin communities restore their watershed and avoid future water supply crises was demonstrated once again in President Bush's recent budget initiative.

In his proposed budget for fiscal year 2005, the president calls for investing $105 million in federal government projects in the Klamath Basin to accelerate habitat rehabilitation for three threatened and endangered fish, spur water quality and quantity improvements, and advance the pace of scientific research to help solve these problems.

John Keys is commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, which has jurisdiction over the Klamath Reclamation Project.

The investment, a 38 percent increase in funding over fiscal year 2003 and a 21 percent increase over fiscal year 2004, would provide an unprecedented level of restoration and water enhancement projects for the 12,000-square-mile watershed.

Many of these projects reflect the recommendations of the National Academy of Science's National Research Council, which issued a report last year urging federal agencies to broaden the scope of their recovery plans and more directly encourage stakeholders to take voluntary actions that benefit endangered and threatened fish in Klamath Lake and the Klamath River. The report also emphasized improving conditions on Klamath tributaries, such as the Trinity and Shasta rivers, to address problems on the Lower Klamath River.

From the outset, this administration has made the Klamath Basin a top priority, and during my recent meetings with community leaders and local officials in the area, numerous residents expressed their sincere appreciation for the president's continuing commitment.

That commitment dates from 2001, when drought and legal requirements for threatened and endangered fish led to the severe curtailment of water for agricultural use in the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Project.

Working group established

Because the events in 2001 were the culmination of years of dispute over water quality and allocation in the Basin, President Bush established a Cabinet-level Klamath River Basin Federal Working Group to address the complex economic and legal issues involved in the dispute, coordinate the federal government's Klamath efforts, and recommend immediate steps and long-term solutions.

Leading the working group are Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman, Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, and Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality James Connaughton. The working group's goal is to ensure that the farming community that depends on the Klamath Project has access to a sustainable water supply while the project complies with federal environmental laws protecting threatened and endangered species and respecting tribal trust obligations.

In formulating this advice, the working group seeks input from stakeholders, including members of the farming and fishing communities; residents of the Basin; representatives of conservation, environmental, and water-use organizations; the states of Oregon and California; local governments; and representatives of Klamath River Basin tribal governments.

The working group has accomplished a number of Klamath-related restoration projects, including requesting the National Research Council report, overseeing an $18 million effort that provided new flow gates and a fish screen complex at the head of the Klamath Project's main diversion canal, and coordinating a $13 million initiative that conserved vital water supplies by increasing irrigation efficiency on 16,000 acres of agricultural lands while meeting crop needs and increasing profitability.

The working group's most recent recommendation to the president was, in fact, the historic levels of funding for Klamath projects reflected in the fiscal year 2005 budget proposal. Among the major increases over fiscal year 2003 Klamath-related funding are increases of:

$12 million for the Agriculture Department's Natural Resource Conservation Service's on-farm assistance to private landowners in the Klamath Basin for conservation systems planning and implementation, irrigation water management, upland watershed management, and wetland, wildlife and conservation buffer enhancement.

$5.9 million in the Fish and Wildlife Service's collaborative partnerships for restoring fish habitat.

$4.6 million to purchase critical land and return it to natural wetlands, enhance populations of endangered suckers and increase the amount of water that can be stored in Upper Klamath Lake.

$2.5 million for new studies of the endangered species and studies on water quality aspects of Klamath Lake; the increase in funds responds to recommendations of the National Research Council and will develop their information on which to base endangered species recovery actions.

$2.1 million to remove the Chiloquin Dam and reopen 70 miles of sucker habitat on the Sprague River.

$2 million to bolster coho salmon recovery, habitat restoration and science in lower Basin tributaries.

$2.9 million for water banks with broadened eligibility among farmers and ranchers who voluntarily conserve water.

Under the guidance of the working group, the Bureau of Reclamation will focus the myriad Klamath scientific and restoration efforts to the recovery of the endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers and the threatened coho salmon. Modeled after similar Bureau of Reclamation programs in other Western river basins, this conservation implementation program will unify many of the efforts of work groups, task forces, tribes, water users, and environmental interests, using a science-based approach to define critical fishery needs and prioritize funding to maximize the recovery strategies for the endangered fish.

All of these efforts reflect the president's steadfast commitment to restoring the health of the Klamath Basin, which will require a broad watershed approach, the participation of a wide range of partners, and a long-term approach that benefits all Klamath communities.

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