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Water settlement
Question-answer session draws 100 people
Klamath County commissioners coordinate meeting

H&N Regional Editor

February 26, 2008

   More than 100 people attended a question-answer session Monday about the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. 

   The proposed agreement allocates water in the Klamath River watershed among tribes, irrigators, fisheries and conservations. It also advocates removal of four hydroelectric dams owned and operated by PacifiCorp. 

   The bulk of the questions were handled by Tom Paul, deputy director of the Oregon Water Resources Department; Phil Detrich, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Chip Dale, regional manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The session was at the Klamath County Fairgrounds. 

   Also participating were Karen Shimamoto, Fremont and Winema National Forests supervisor; Irma Lagonmarsino, from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Arcata, Calif.; David Harter, U.S. Justice Department; Don Holstrom, Klamath Falls office of the Bureau of Land Management; Jon Hicks of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Sue Knapp, from Gov. Ted Kulongski’s natural resources office; and Cory Scott of PacifiCorp. 

   The meeting was coordinated by Klamath County commissioners. 

   During the first hour panelists answered written questions. A second hour plus allowed attendees to ask questions. 

   Questions asked 

   Among the questions: 

   How much sediment is behind the dams proposed for removal? 

   Detrich said a study by a Seattle engineering firm determined there are 20 million cubic yards, and that 84 percent would be “easily mobilized” by the river water flow. He said the agreement is not about removing dams and agreements to remove the dams would require new environmental impact statements and Endangered Species Act considerations. Information on the sediment study is available at the agency Web site at www. fws.gov/yreka. 

   If the agreement is approved, how would it affect water rights? 

   Paul said the agreement does not quantify any water claims on or off the Klamath Reclamation Project. In a related answer, Paul said the agreement would not affect priority dates on water claims. 

   Is the agreement legal under existing Oregon water laws? 

   Paul said there are provisions in Oregon water law that provide a process where all or some of the individual sections of the agreement, which do not fit existing laws, can be changed to fit legal requirements. 

   What additional expenses would irrigators and others face if salmon are reintroduced? 

   Dale said the intent of the settlement talks was to develop cooperative efforts, which would include seeking federal and state money to pay for salmon restoration efforts. 

   If biological opinions require water shortages or cutoffs, what is the advantage of having an agreement? 

   Lagonmarsino said water users wanted exemptions from Endangered Species Act mandates, but said the well-entrenched law cannot be changed. The agreement provides a one-of-a-kind process, which includes dispute resolution, intended to avoid litigation but he said, “Is there a guarantee? No, there’s not, and that’s scary … We don’t want you to be punished.” 

   How many agencies/ groups need to sign the agreement for it to move forward? 

   Knapp said there is no exact number, but indicated the greater the support the better the chances for state and federally financed programs. “It’s a question we’ll have to ask ourselves.” 

   Is the agreement dead if dams are not removed? 


   Given that Upper Klamath Lake is a eutrophic lake, will the removal of dams really improve Klamath River water quality? 

   Detrich said studies indicate the dams and reservoirs worsen water quality, so dam removal could improve water quality. Habitat improvements along Upper Klamath Lake could also provide “some help.” 
   Based on 1864 treaty 

   How did the Klamath Tribes gain so many water rights?    

   Paul said the Klamaths have no water rights, but have a claim based on the 1864 treaty and court decisions granting them hunting and fishing rights. “And to fish you need water.” A previous case also said the tribes have rights “immemorable.” 

   If the Klamaths receive the Mazama tree farm, could it be traded to the Forest Service? 

   Shimamoto said a trade could be made without Congressional approval, subject to studies by the Forest Service that a land exchange would be beneficial to the Forest Service and tribes. 

   Power rates 

   How will power rates be affected if dams are removed? 

   “Unfortunately we don’t know and can’t know,” Scott said, noting confidential discussions are being held between PacifiCorp and stakeholders. Detrich noted power rates are not solely dependent on the settlement. He said the power company’s relicensing efforts would continue if the dams are not removed and that could force higher rates. 

   Will the settlement impact the Klamath Compact? 

   Paul said any impacts would be minor. 

   What impact does the settlement have on Klamath Basin water currently diverted to the Rogue Basin? 

   Paul said the Rogue Basin, which receives 25 percent of its irrigation water from high elevation Klamath Basin reservoirs, would be subject to water rights like other water users. 

   Did salmon historically spawn in Upper Klamath Lake and the Upper Basin? 

   Lagonmarsino said there is “convincing evidence.” Detrich agreed the issue is controversial, but said there is evidence salmon were found in the Sprague River, and that studies indicate the potential for successful salmon reintroduction.



              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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