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Senator meets with residents to discuss the issues at hand.
Merkley talks about drought, security, environmental concerns
  by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 2/16/14
     Senator Jeff Merkley met with Klamath County residents Saturday to discuss drought, environmental concerns and national security. About 50 Klamath County residents attended the town hall, which was held at Klamath Community College. Merkley opened by acknowledging the topic on everyone’s mind: drought. He called the storm system moving over the Basin “Pineapple Express” that will drop rain but is unlikely to establish snowpack.


  H&N photo by Lacey Jarrell

   Jennifer Simon, with the Klamath County Farm Service Agency, visits with Sen. Jeff Merkley after a town hall meeting Saturday.

Bonanza resident Ben Edwards said he receives his irrigation water from Clear Lake in California, but worries that if the lake doesn’t fill with another 40,000 acre-feet before irrigation season his water situation could be dire. He is unhappy with the water reserves held back in Basin reservoirs for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biological opinion.

   The biological opinion ensures habitat needs are met for protected species like the endangered sucker and coho salmon.

   Merkley said his position is to support local stakeholders in working together and bringing their on-the-ground expertise to try to find a better path.

   “When the elements of that require a federal partnership, I’m going to try to make sure the federal partnership is there,” Merkley said.

   “What is the chance of getting the biological opinion changed?” Edwards asked.

   Merkley pointed out the new joint biological opinion — released last year as a collaboration between the National Marine Fisheries Service and the USFWS — is intended to resolve water allocation conflicts caused by separate past opinions.

   “The core issue is that we’re going to be living under the framework of a biological opinion of some sort and we’re going to have to wrestle with it as part of the framework within which we’re dealing with water,” he said.
     Merkley said he has participated in ongoing conversations among stakeholders of the Klamath Basin Task Force agreement. He said it’s his understanding that there is a lot of optimism regarding the task force settlement talks.

   Task force member Matt Walter, of Chiloquin, said the settlement talks made great strides last week.

   “We’ve been really productive the last couple of weeks. I’m pretty positive that pretty shortly we’re going to have a final product to put out. Hopefully we can convince our community to move forward with it,” Walter said.  

   The task force’s objective is to create an all-inclusive piece of legislation that addresses power delivery to on- and off-project irrigators, resolves water issues above Upper Klamath Lake and reduces the federal budget for the projects.

   A task force subcommittee, consisting of the Klamath Tribes, upper Basin irrigators, environmental groups and other stakeholders, has been working to finalize an agreement for stakeholders above Upper Klamath Lake.  

   If approved by the Klamath Tribal Council and a host of irrigators, the agreement in principle will become one component of the proposed legislation that will cover the upper Basin; the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) including Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators and the Klamath Hydro Settlement Agreement with PacifiCorp, which may involve removing four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.  

   Niles Walter, Matt Walter’s 14-year-old son, asked Merkley for his position on renewable energy. Niles pointed out that solar subsidies are set to expire in 2016.

   “What are your thoughts on continuing those subsidies or expanding subsidies for other programs?” Niles asked.

   Merkley said he supports the subsidies.

   “We have a situation where carbon pollution is an attack on our rural resource community. It’s affecting our farming, our timber; it’s affecting our fishing,” he said.  

   Merkley believes renewable energy is an important strategy to take on the burning of fossil fuels and affecting resources.

   “For the foreseeable future, I think it makes sense to try to foster the use of non-fossil fuels,” he said.

   Marty Heim, from Klamath Falls, asked   what the current situation with the greater sage grouse is in Eastern Oregon, as it affects grazing and cattle ranching.

   “What Oregon is trying to do is have its own plan to avoid listing. That is the key, and the stakeholders have been working hard to try to make that happen. If Oregon can make its own plan successful, that would be the best path,” Merkley said.

   Joe Brick, an outdoor sportsman from Klamath Falls, questioned why the USFWS has to spend $3.5 million dollars to get rid of some barred owls.

   “I know $3.5 million is just a drop in the federal bucket, but couldn’t we use the money for something worthwhile?” he asked.  

   Merkley said he knows the USFWS experiment is fairly controversial, but it’s being conducted to learn more about how to preserve the spotted owl, because the barred owl is a more aggressive owl and behaves in the same manner. The experiment will produce results showing the effectiveness of removing barred owls from habitat, he said.

   Klamath Falls resident Sally Wells asked about Merkley’s position on federal National Security Agency (NSA) data collecting activities.

   Merkley responded that he is not comfortable with the current process of collecting data without evidence required for personal information gathering. Merkley said he is backing legislation that will make the NSA law easier for the average American to understand.

   “I have a lot of concerns about overreach,” he said. “I believe there is very little evidence that this massive sweep of cell phone data and other forms have actually enhanced our national security.”  

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN


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