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Water task force slow to come to consensus
  Framework pushed back two weeks after meeting
  By DEVAN SCHWARTZ, Herald and News 8/23/13
     ASHLAND — Groups with a big interest in resolving Klamath Basin water issues need more time to deliver consensus recommendations to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

   Wyden set up the Klamath Basin task force earlier this summer to address three key roadblocks to resolving shared water for irrigators, the tribes and the wildlife refuges, while all desperately need the resource.        The task force previously planned to announce a framework Thursday in Ashland, with additional work occurring before the final meeting. The final meeting has been pushed back from Sept. 5 to Sept. 19.

   Richard Whitman, natural resources adviser to Gov. John Kitzhaber
  , cited slow progress on addressing upper Basin water issues and federal costs. Whitman   did announce new funds may be available through the Oregon Lottery to help stressed irrigators. He expressed confidence about securing the funds, though the amount is unknown at this time. Wyden press secretary Tom Towslee said eventual legislation could still be pursued during the current Congress, which concludes December 2014. “A good process is more important than a quick process,” Towslee said.  

   Wyden convened the 27 stakeholders to solve the lingering problems of high federal costs, equitable power for pumping water and a lack of inclusion for all parties in order to make regional water settlements more palatable for a partisan, budget-conscious Congress. Task force members include farmers and ranchers, conservationists, tribal members, government agencies and power utilities.

   Whitman, who oversees the meetings, says the overall goals remain the same even if Wyden’s original Sept. 10 deadline for recommendations won’t be reached.

   “Taking the time to allow people to be thoughtful and get things right and make   sure we’ve got a durable resolution is important,” Whitman said.

   Even within the task force, unanimous consensus is hard to come by. Conservation groups such as Waterwatch of Oregon and Oregon Wild advocate for reducing water demand and finding water for wildlife refuges beyond what the agreements provide.

   The settlement agreements, known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, were designed to establish reliable water and power supplies for agriculture and the wildlife refuges, restore and sustain natural fish production, remove four   hydroelectric dams and help the Klamath Tribes acquire the 92,000-acre Mazama Tree Farm.

   The final planned meeting is Sept. 19 in Klamath Falls. Whitman expects the costs and water groups to present more detailed   information at that time.

   Meanwhile, between the larger task force sessions, subcommittees have discussed the issues in person and via conference calls.




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