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Mikkelson continues (Klamath) water talks; details vague

by Holly Dillemute, Herald and News 8/21/18

Twenty years ago, if someone had asked Alan Mikkelsen if he would climb Mount Everest, he said he might have packed his backpack.

But not now, Mikkelsen, who serves as the senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on water and western resources, told the Herald and News on Monday afternoon. In his own way, Mikkelsen is making the trek in terms of difficulty in negotiation, as he works with stakeholders to formulate a comprehensive, long-term agreement aimed at solving discord over water issues.

He is in Klamath Falls this week visiting with area stakeholders about what they want to see in a long-term water agreement.

When asked why he chooses the mountain as a metaphor, Mikkelsen said, “Because I regard it as the ultimate challenge, in either mountaineering or conflict resolution.”

Mikkelsen is Zinke’s right-hand man when it comes to water resources in the 17 western states, which includes Oregon and specifically negotiating a water settlement in the Klamath Basin.

“I think that the Klamath conflict is the most difficult natural resource conflict within the Department of the Interior, and perhaps within the federal government,” Mikkelsen said. “I deal with difficult issues in other places but no, that assessment has not changed.”

And with Mount Everest in mind, Mikkelsen said the road to an agreement, if likened to a mountaineering trek of that caliber, is in the third of the mountain’s five camps.

“We’re not on the oxygen yet at camp three,” he said. “It’s always cold, it’s always uncomfortable, and you know, it’s part of the acclimation process to the mountain.”

But Mikkelsen is hopeful that if stakeholders want to meet and talk, a solution could arise.

Mikkelsen visited with members of the Klamath Tribes on Saturday, and with off-Project irrigators at a local hotel conference meeting on Monday. He planned to meet with another group of stakeholders at Klamath County Government Center on Monday evening.

He emphasized that solutions to conflicts over water impact every aspect of the community, from property values to economic development to education.

“I think that anytime that you can resolve conflict, it’s always better for a community,” Mikkelsen said.

Mikkelsen declined to comment on the contents of a framework document in the works — known previously as a ‘skeletal’ framework — that is hoped to serve as a baseline for a long-term, comprehensive solution to water conflicts in the Basin.

“We’ve heard from a wide variety of stakeholders across the Basin, some of the ideas that they would have for what they would like to see,” Mikkelsen said.

“We’re interested in making sure that we’re going to be creating a process that will allow everyone in the Basin to participate,” Mikkelsen added. “We’re still as much process-oriented right now as we are detail-oriented to try to encourage the folks in the Basin to give us their vision of what they want their future to look like.”

Mikkelsen said he can say more about a process he and others working on when he returns in the third week of September.

“We believe that it will be a process that will be open and will lead to public discussion and involvement across the board,” Mikkelsen said. “We think that process will produce a long-term agreement ultimately.”

Mikkelsen was vague on the details of an agreement in process but said he could say more on his next visit.

“In order to create a safe space at this time, I am somewhat hesitant to release what any of the parties have shared with us until we can develop this process further with confidentiality agreements or how we’re going to go forward,” Mikkelsen said.

“We have developed a confidentiality agreement but we’re not presenting that at this time to any of the parties,” Mikkelsen added. “I don’t know what we will do with that agreement in the future, frankly. It depends on the process that we ultimately develop.”

“I think a solution is going to hinge on a process that will allow everyone in the Basin to sit with everyone else and have serious discussions about their visions of the future.”

Those wishing to set up a future meeting with Mikkelsen should reach out to his staff via his Denver office at 303-445-2586 or by email at astherhan@usbr.gov.




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