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Friday deadline: Tribes, irrigators, others close on water pact. (Klamath) agreement may affect usage for years
  by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 2/12/14
     A water settlement for upper Basin stakeholders could be finalized as soon as Friday.  

   The Klamath Tribes, upper Basin irrigators and conservation groups, who have been working to create an agreement to allot water and environmental rights for landowners, are in talks every day this week in hopes of finalizing an agreement that has been in the works for months.

   “All parties are still working toward a goal of a really good, comprehensive settlement. It’s starting to   come together,” said Garrett Roseberry, a representative of the Sprague River Water Resource Group.

   “Everybody is willing to do whatever it takes,” he added.

   The Feb. 14 goal was set after the stakeholder group, called the Upper Basin Water Group, missed a self-imposed Jan. 17 deadline. The agreement is the key to bringing a $500 million piece of legislation before Congress that will guide water usage in the entire Basin for years to come.

   The Upper Basin Water Group is a subcommittee of the Klamath Basin Task Force coordinated by Richard Whitman, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s natural resource adviser. Proposed legislation will cover the upper Basin; KBRA  

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

   Don Gentry, Klamath Tribes chairman, said the Upper Basin Water Group has been diligently working to finalize the agreement for months.

   “We’re making progress and everyone is looking to achieve success,” he said.

   Gentry pointed out that the situation has changed somewhat since Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., appointed the task force in July. Wyden coordinated the task force as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He is now being considered as the next chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Officials can only chair one committee at a time, which means if Wyden is appointed to finance, he will have to step down as the resource chairman.  

   Tom Towslee, spokesman for Wyden, said an announcement for Wyden’s new position could be as early as this week. However Wyden will not leave the resource committee altogether, he only plans step to down as chair and remain a member of the committee. Towslee said the senator’s good working relationship with ranking committee officials should allow the legislation to keep moving forward.  

   “It shouldn’t have any impact at all,” Towslee said.

   Becky Hyde, an Upper Basin Water Users Association member and rancher, said she is not concerned about Wyden’s potential move from leader of the resource committee, and she doesn’t foresee anything unraveling if he changes committee leadership.

   “I’m just grateful the senator wants to be involved in pushing a solution,” said Hyde, who is hopeful the settlement will be done this week.

   “For those of us involved, we’re really ready to wrap this up,” she said.

   Gentry said he has strived to keep lines of communication open with Tribe members, and once the settlement is finalized, members will vote whether to accept or reject the agreement conditions.

   “Most of our members understand what we’ve been working toward, and have generally been supportive,” he said.  

   If approved by stakeholders, the agreement will become one component of the proposed legislation that will cover the upper Basin; the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement including “On Project” irrigators; and the Klamath Hydro Settlement Agreement with PacifiCorp, which may involve removing four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN



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