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Klamath Tribes will not negotiate with groups on water agreement

By TY BEAVER Herald and News 3/18/07

   The Klamath Tribes will no longer negotiate with the Klamath Off-Project Water Users and Resource Conservancy groups on the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and water adjudication process.
   A full-page advertisement in Sunday’s Herald and News outlined the Tribes’ proposal to resolve their differences with off-Project water users by meetings with individual landowners and “appropriate landowner groups.”
   Representatives of Klamath Off-Project Water Users and Resource Conservancy criticized the advertisement, saying it contained inaccuracies.
   They also called for a reopening of negotiations on the agreement, a move rejected by a tribal representative.
   “We’re not interested in going back to square one,” said Jeff Mitchell, tribal council member.
   Stakeholders released the proposed agreement Jan. 15. If approved, it would allocate water in the Klamath River watershed between irrigators, tribes, fishermen and conservationists. It also seeks removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River owned by Portland-based PacifiCorp.
   Some off-Project water users criticized the agreement, saying it provided few assurances for stabilized power rates and directly granted the Tribes a full water right in the water adjudication process.
   The Tribes published the newspaper advertisement at a cost of between $1,000 and $2,500. Cost of the ad would depend on a variety of rates and contracts the Herald and News offers for advertising. The Tribes could have paid as little as $9 a column inch to as much as $21 a column inch for the 110-inch full-page ad.
   In the ad, the Tribes said they were committed to stabilizing communities, including off-Project water users. Off-Project water users are those who own land and use irrigation water outside of the Klamath Reclamation Project.
   It then outlined a process in which the Tribes would work through Section 16 of the agreement with individual landowners to develop a settlement that would benefit the majority of off-Project water users.
   However, the Tribes said they would not work with the Resource Conservancy or Klamath Off-Project Water Users as exclusive representatives of off-Project water users. Edward Bartell, president of Klamath Off-Project Water Users, was at the table during settlement talks.
   “We recognize that some landowners value these participants’ counsel and their willingness to devote time and expense in meeting on water issues,” the ad stated. “However, a successful outcome will not flow from continued reliance on the personalities that could not reach agreement in lengthy talks so far.”
   Mitchell said discussions with off-Project water users indicated they did not give representative authority to those two organizations at agreement talks, and individual landowners would decide whether to sign on or not.
   Attacks disappointing
   Bartell said he was disappointed by the attacks the ad made against him and his organization. He said his organization and the Resource Conservancy have signed authorizations from landowners designating them as representatives of off-Project water users.
   Section 16 of the agreement would not provide any further protections for off-Project water users and to say otherwise is an inaccuracy, Bartell said, adding that it also doesn’t address issues with power rates.
   Instead, he said, stakeholders should go back to an original agreement framework developed in early 2007 that was amenable to off-Project water users.
   “They’ve been unwilling to provide what they said they’d provide,” Bartell said.
Commitment questioned
   A press release from the Resource Conservancy questioned the Tribes’ commitment to agriculture, saying they contributed to the 2001 water crisis and have continued legal action against off-Project irrigators.
   The conservancy was denied a seat in the settlement talks, but it supported the January 2007 framework. It also honored a settlement reached with the Tribes and former chairman Allen Foreman and stands ready to honor that and other agreements, the press release stated.
   Mitchell said the Tribes do not want to take advantage of anyone and would not oppose meeting with neighboring landowners who wish to team up.
   “We need to find a critical mass of people willing to work with us,” he said.
   Klamath County Commissioner John Elliott, who also participated in settlement talks, said he thinks the Tribes are trying to honor Section 16 of the agreement, which calls for negotiations between individual landowners and the Tribes.
   Calls on Monday to Luther Horsley and Greg Addington of the Klamath Water Users Association were not immediately returned.
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