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Salmon return to Klamath foreseen

Water allocation seen as key Klamath River issue in talks

by Steve Kadel, Herald and News 11/28/06

Participants in Klamath River salmon restoration talks say it’s almost certain salmon will return to the Upper Klamath Basin.

They believe the only question is whether fish will be trucked around dams, negotiate fish ladders or migrate freely because dams have been removed.

Klamath Water Users Association executive director Greg Addington said private discussions among farmers, fishermen and Tribes have moved past the question of whether salmon will come back to the Upper Basin. He called their return “imminent.”

Sticking point is water.

That having been determined, Addington said, allocation of Klamath Lake water is the sticking point for stakeholders. The dilemma involves how much water will be kept in reserve in Upper Klamath Lake, how much will be released for fish, and how much will be allocated to irrigators.

Addington expressed optimism the stakeholders — who have decided not to reveal specifics of their talks — can reach consensus on critical water allocation issues.

“Everyone seems to realize we have a window of opportunity,” Addington said, referring to relicensing of Klamath River dams by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

PacifiCorp wants to continue operating the dams. The relicensing process is a chance to question practices that weren’t on the table 50 years ago when the current license was approved.

A summit meeting involving governors of Oregon and California to discuss dam removal and salmon run restoration had been scheduled for December. But it’s been pushed back to late January or early February to give stakeholders more time to work on an agreement.

Craig Tucker of California’s Karuk Tribe acknowledged the closed-door talks have involved power rates for farmers, possible dam removal, and river flows.

“We’re trying desperately to craft a win-win,” he said. Power rates a challenge

Tucker called power rates for irrigators “a big challenge,” but added he’s optimistic a compromise can be found.

“The Karuk Tribe is getting desperate to fix the salmon situation, and I think the farmers are feeling the same way because they’re not getting any help elsewhere on power rates.”

Dave Kvamme of Pacifi-Corp noted the utility initiated settlement talks last summer, but has not been part of discussions in recent months.

The stakeholders group, and the proposed governors’ summit, are concerned with an array of Klamath River habitat issues beyond the dams. Meanwhile, dam relicensing is PacifiCorp’s focus, Kvamme said.

It will help everyone if stakeholders can agree on a course of action to suggest to FERC, he said.

“We’ve been pretty clear we prefer to have a settled outcome,” Kvamme said.

Steve Rothart of American Rivers noted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with NOAA Fisheries has recommended fish ladders and screens for passage at dams. He added that groups are making progress toward a settlement.

“Everyone at the table is trying hard to understand the issues and address all parties’ concerns,” he said. “The fact we have postponed and not canceled the (governors’) summit means we are having success.”

Chuck Bonham of Trout Unlimited agreed with the Water Users’ Addington that water allocation is a key issue. He also lists restoration of the river and the ecosystem as being critical.

“And we need to find a way to respect and sustain local agriculture economies,” he said. “That gets back to how we’re going to allocate limited amounts of water.”

Like Addington, Bonham is optimistic.

“There’s a shared sense that hope is alive,” he said. “That is sorely needed, and worth applause.”

Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s office indicated that he is still determined to hold a Klamath River Basin summit and for it to be in Klamath Falls, but he is waiting for stakeholders to work through issues.

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