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Klamath water deal snags on environmental group's opposition

By David Whitney - dwhitney@mcclatchydc.com March 4, 2008, Sacramento Bee

(KBC note: Our new "friend" Spain of PCFFA has been an advocate of dam removal and supported the entire agreement. He is a founder of the Klamath Coalition, an anti-Klamath agriculture group he's allied with, at the settlement table. Coalition allies who have a seat at the settlement table are:  Northcoast Environmental Center, PCFFA, Friends of the River/Craig Tucker, Trout Unlimited, Klamath Forest Alliance/Petey Brucker and Felice Pace, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy. Each of these environmental groups has a place at the settlement table. All of the combined Klamath Project districts have one seat. Some other groups in their coalition are Oregon Wild, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Klamath Audubon, Wilderness Society, and Water Watch. Many of these groups, including PCFFA, have sued to shut down Klamath agriculture and advocated buying out farmers.) (Another KBC NOTE: All the Oregon salmon trollers we have spoken to say that they are not represented by PCFFA. So they have NO seat at the settlement table.)

WASHINGTON A plan to end fighting over Klamath River water along the California-Oregon border took a hit Monday when the Northcoast Environmental Center said the $1 billion deal doesn't provide enough help for salmon.

The NEC said it cannot support the agreement, still in flux, which guarantees water for up-river farmers in Oregon but gives no such assurances for endangered salmon trying to make their way up the 260-mile river to spawn.

Participants touted the January deal as benefiting both fish and farming because it would complement separate negotiations to get Portland-based PacifiCorp to remove a series of dams impeding fish passage.

"This agreement would lock us into supporting water allocations for agriculture that could result in stream flows so low as to cause extinction," said Greg King, the center's executive director.

He said his group wants to reopen the water allocation talks, one of the stickiest parts of the deal.

The Arcata-based NEC's opposition, based on scientific studies it commissioned, will complicate, if not kill, the chances of a deal getting to Congress in time for enactment this year.

"It's disappointing," said Craig Tucker of California's Karuk Tribe, a leading advocate of the deal. "It's a big deal for congressmen like Mike Thompson."

Thompson, D-St. Helena, represents the area with most of the river in Northern California, and Tucker said it would be difficult for him to back a deal opposed by his district's leading environmental organization.

Thompson could not be reached immediately for comment.

The NEC announcement will put pressure on the 26 groups involved in the talks to amend key principles that have taken more than two years to draft. Talks resume Wednesday.

Glen Spain, who represents commercial fishermen in the talks, said his group agrees that fish-friendly changes will have to be made.

"Clearly there are uncertainties about what the fish in the lower Klamath River get out of this in the long term," he said.

Those on the other side of the bargaining table, however, expressed little interest in reexamining the down-river concerns.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association that relies on the federal irrigation water, said his bigger concern now is trying to shore up support among irrigators.

"I can't spend more time on that," Addington said of the NEC's concerns. "I've got to spend time in my own backyard at this point."

Time may be the bigger factor. Advocates of the deal are trying to get it wrapped up in the next month or so in order to get it through Congress and signed by President Bush before he leaves office in January.

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