Groups: Deal has greater benefits
Off-Project users: Settlement doesnít resolve everything
by Ty Beaver, Herald and News May 31, 2009
Irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project arenít the only
water users to benefit from a recent settlement agreement between
on-Project water users and the Klamath Tribes.
The two groups reached a tentative settlement last week that
settled their contesting claims in the Klamath Basin adjudication
process for water from Upper Klamath Lake. The settlement
establishes how much water from the lake Project irrigators can
use, based on the type of water year, and seeks to fulfill the
Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
The agreement would allocate water in the Klamath River Basin
among fisheries, farmers, tribes and conservationists.
Klamath Tribes water attorney Bud Ullman said the nature of water
law prevents the Tribes from striking a deal with the Project. The
Tribes had to abandon their contests to claims on the lake from
1908 or before, which includes irrigators off and on the Project.
ďIt protects an awful lot of people,Ē Ullman said.
The Project was established in 1908.
Greg Addington, executive director of Klamath Water Users
Association, said he and others representing Project irrigators
have asserted before that their settlement with the Tribes also
would benefit off-Project irrigators.
But off-Project representatives said the recent settlement doesnít
resolve all their concerns.
Tom Mallams, president of the Klamath Off-Project Water Users,
said the recent settlement was already in the restoration
agreement and doesnít diminish the Tribesí claim for flow levels
on the rivers feeding into the lake.
ďIf they were truly sincere about not making a call, they should
drop their claim,Ē he said.
Becky Hyde, member of the Upper Klamath Basin Water Users
Association, said even if the Tribes donít call on off-Project
irrigators regarding lake levels, Project irrigators still could,
and many off-Project irrigators with junior water rights still
The Tribes and Project irrigators have promoted their recent
settlement as a sign that the conflicts over water in the Basin,
something the restoration agreement seeks to resolve, are nearing
The fact the Tribes abandoned their claims to lake water prior to
1908 bodes well for many irrigators.
Under the tentative settlement, any irrigator using water from the
lake or its tributaries with a water right before 1908 cannot be
called on by the Tribes to maintain lake levels should the Tribes
win other water rights in adjudication, regardless of whether
someone signs onto the broader restoration agreement.
Addington and Ullman said off-Project irrigators arenít completely
protected from a call on their water. If the Tribes win their
remaining claims, they could call on off-Project irrigators to
meet flow requirements of the Williamson, Sprague and Wood rivers
to provide for fish. Ullman said itís still possible for that
issue to be worked out, as provided in the restoration agreement.
Mallams said the recent settlement isnít anything new and still
leaves off-Project irrigators vulnerable. Even if the Tribes are
granted their other claims and donít ever call on them, others
such as environmentalists could as it would be legally established
ďThey still have an instream claim thatís not meetable,Ē he said.
Hyde said the real threat to off-Project irrigators isnít the
Tribes or the Project irrigators, but the off-Project irrigators
Time has revealed more off-Project water users with junior water
rights, or rights dating after 1908. That means that they donít
have to worry about just the Project or the Tribes making a call,
but also the number of off-Project irrigators with senior rights,
such as the Modoc Point Irrigation District.
ďThatís where we have ongoing problems,Ē she said.