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Hint: States, feds will unite on Klamath solutions

By TAM MOORE Oregon Staff Writer


Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski lays out his formula for a “lasting and comprehensive” resolution of multi-state Klamath River issues July 20, after pledging that he’s working to sustain agriculture in the upper basin.
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — A new Klamath River compact between Oregon, California and the federal government may surface within 60 days.

Hint of renewed state interest in solutions to contentious Klamath water issues came this week after Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski spoke at the 50th annual meeting of the Klamath Water Users Association.

“Within the next two months we will see partnership,” said Dan Keppen, executive director of the association. “The two states and the feds are forging a partnership.”

Kulongoski used the July 20 water user’s meeting to open a two-day round of visits with key players in Klamath disputes. The next morning he breakfasted with the Upper Klamath Basin Working Group — a federal advisory committee on restoration of the watershed.

Then Kulongoski huddled with the Tribal Council that represents three American Indian tribes who shared the former Klamath Indian Reservation. The tribes hold senior claims to water rights on former reservation lands and have even broader claims through a 1964 treaty with the federal government.

“One thing that I have learned in the last 18 months — that has been the greatest pleasure as being governor of this state — and that is we are all one people. I truly believe that the strength of this state lies in this room, and in other meetings like this all over the state,” said Kulongoski in his formal speech to 300 people at the water user luncheon.”

Earlier this year Mike Chrissman, appointed resource secretary by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, made a low-profile trip to the basin to promise interest in solutions. Klamath conflicts gained national attention with the 2001 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation denial of water to 1,100 Klamath Project farms.

President George W. Bush, who in 2002 directed federal cabinet secretaries to craft long-term Klamath solutions, sent a letter of congratulations to the water users’ 50th celebration. It was read just before the Oregon governor spoke.

Kulongoski laid out his formula for putting aside Klamath conflicts:

n Focus on basin-wide solutions in which all users share shortages when precipitation is short.

n Equitable allocation of available water: “We are making real progress.”

n View sustaining agriculture in the basin as a benefit to Oregon’s overall economy.

n Create a forum where stakeholders in the upper and lower Klamath guide the policy.

“We cannot continue to use groundwater as we are now,” said Kulongoski, looking at a table of BuRec executives who for the past three seasons have paid farmers to pump from wells and send that water downstream to augment flows dictated for fish habitat.

The governor said he wants to see more water storage capability in the upper basin, restoration of fish passage blocked by hydroelectric dams on both sides of the state line, completion of the federal pledge to restore flows in California’s Trinity River, the largest tributary of the Klamath, and continuation of efforts to improve water quality and riparian habitat.

“I’ve instructed my staff and state agencies to make the Klamath a priority,” said Kulongoski.

Keppen, in his management report delivered later in the meeting, down-played arguments that there’s not enough available water for farmland under irrigation in the basin.

The acreage hasn’t increased in 50 years, Keppen said. The new water demands have been created by regulatory agencies seeking additional water for fish habitat.

A consulting hydrologist, Mark Van Camp of Sacramento, told the water users an analysis of the draft BuRec historic water flow study shows that downstream flows have increased 30 percent over discharges before settlement. That’s apparently because the irrigated land uses less water than evaporation loss from the thousands of acres of wetlands that existed before the shallow lakebeds were diked, drained and put to the plow.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His email address is cappress@charter.net.


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