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Only new legislation can secure Klamath Basin refuges



In the recent news article regarding proposed funding for the Klamath Basin, there was, as usual, no mention by the administration of a proposal to provide an adequate and dependable water supply to Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges, especially the Lower Klamath Refuge ("Bush proposes to boost spending on Klamath Basin," Jan. 28).

These refuges are a critical link in the Pacific Flyway and have been around since 1908. Under current law they are, however, last in line for water.

During my tenure as manager of these refuges from 1974-1986, water supplies could be negotiated on a yearly basis. Since listing of the suckerfish and Coho salmon in the Klamath system, additional water is allocated for listed species and water for refuges is no longer available on a reliable basis.

A comprehensive solution to Klamath issues will not be realized without new legislation. The Klamath Reclamation Project needs to be reauthorized, making the wildlife refuges a purpose of the project and thereby including them in future water allocations. This process was done in the Central Valley Project in California in the 1980s and has secured water for state and federal wildlife areas since they became a purpose of the project.

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton wants to have a "larger watershed approach." This should include a reexamination of the Trinity River, which now has water diverted to California's Central Valley Project, thereby limiting flows downstream to the lower portions of the Klamath River.

The fish die-off in 2002 could probably have been prevented or alleviated with additional water down the Trinity. It is unrealistic to expect to resolve downstream Klamath River issues without addressing the Trinity River situation.

Removal of the Chiloquin Dam on the Sprague River has long been advocated to aid in suckerfish recovery. The tribe wants recovery of these fish but has balked at removing a significant barrier to increased breeding habitat.

They cannot (or should not) have it both ways. If habitat above the dam is in poor condition, then address that issue. Funds invested in habitat improvement will yield greater long-term benefits than programs such as paying farmers to participate in a water bank.

The federal government may well have obligations in tribal water issues and to agriculture in the Klamath Project, but it also has responsibilities for wildlife refuges. I do not see any plans put forward that provide reliable water supplies for refuges.

Reauthorizing the Klamath Project and making refuges a purpose of the project would be the best way to address refuge water issues on a sustained basis and bring other uses of water into balance with existing supplies.

Robert C. Fields lives in Beaverton.

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