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Multitude of issues meet at Klamath

(KBC NOTE: the settlement 'agreement' was supposed to be public Jan. 2008, however since draft 11, it has been negotiated extensively in close-door meetings, Reps have been lobbied by the few at the settlement table, Calif and Oregon governors and PacifiCorp have agreed to dam removal pending studies and funding, and Senate Bill 76 is Oregon legislation to fund dam removal. NO public information, input...no transparency. We the public aren't allowed to read what rights the negotiators have given away. Siskiyou Co, where 3 of the 4 hydrodams are located, is opposed to the 'agreement'. 1850 community members are opposed to this being rammed down their throats in top-down force with no regard for the people's wishes.)

Basinís stakeholders include farmers, fishermen, tribes, environmentalists

Mateusz Perkowski Capital Press February 12, 2009

Fields of onions grow in Klamath Basin. A wide range of groups trying to steer the future of water use in the region are trying to hammer out a unified agreement to guide their way forward. - Mark Rozin/Capital Press It is a controversy that exemplifies the complexity of water management in the West.

Bundled together as the "Klamath Basin" issue, it is in actuality a web of issues, each revolving around water and related to the other.

The multitude of agencies and groups negotiating over the future of the Klamath Basin expect to hammer out a unified deal that would encompass previous truce agreements aimed at resolving water disputes in the region.

A year ago, the Klamath Water Users Association completed a long-awaited settlement with tribes, fishermen and conservationists to resolve litigation over water rights among the parties.

That plan, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, called for $985 million in public and non-governmental funding for environmental restoration and other projects, as well as the removal of four dams along the Klamath River to restore fish passage.

PacifiCorp, which owns the four dams, was initially reluctant to take down the structures.

In November
2008, however, the firm ended up agreeing to a tentative deal with the federal government and the state governments of Oregon and California. Under that Agreement in Principle, dam removal would be completed by 2020.

The groups involved in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Agreement in Principle plan to stitch together the two deals by June, said Greg Addington, executive director of KWUA.

"The focus now is to get one final agreement that incorporates the two," he said.

Although the parties are bound by a confidentiality agreement that prevents them from disclosing specifics, Addington said that reconciling the two documents isn't resulting in any clashes.

"I don't really see any inconsistency between the two," he said. "It's just a matter of how you get from A to B."

Apart from fusing the two agreements, the participants expect to flesh out details that will guide water management in the region, such as how irrigation and in-stream water needs will be balanced in the event of a drought, Addington said.

"That's one of the things that didn't get finished in the KBRA," he said.

California's Siskiyou County, which has opposed taking down the dams, will also have a seat at the table to ensure that the removal doesn't have negative consequences for area residents.

"This would be the largest dam-removal project in the U.S., and we believe it should have some robust, peer-reviewed studies done on it," said Marcia Armstrong, a board supervisor for the county.

Siskiyou County fears that sediments trapped behind the dams contain toxins that could pose a threat to the public health and the environment if released into the water, she said.

"You could poison that entire river," she said.

Armstrong said she is dissatisfied with the sediment studies that have been conducted so far, characterizing them as experimental and inconclusive. The risk posed by the sediment should be analyzed without the preset agenda of dam removal, she said.

Siskiyou County has agreed to participate in the discussions among settlement groups, government agencies and PacifiCorp, but the closed-door nature of the talks is disturbing, Armstrong said.

"It's a very unfair, unbalanced and secretive process, which is not the way the government is supposed to operate," she said.

Tom Mallams, a hay farmer and president of the Klamath Off-Project Water Users, said his group has essentially been excluded from the negotiations.

The Klamath Off-Project Water Users say they do not believe dam removal is a cost-effective option for PacifiCorp ratepayers, and the group's refusal to back down has cost it a seat at the table, he said.

"They don't want our participation because we don't follow the precepts of what they want to do," said Mallams.

The cost of dam removal will be expensive - as high as $450 million - but it's being pushed forward by government agencies that see the federally funded restoration projects as a "cash cow," he said.

"That's what's driving this whole process, is money," said Mallams.

In light of the current economic climate, obtaining congressional funding for projects outlined in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement will be a challenge, but maintaining the status quo is also expensive, said Jim Mitchell, a council member of the Klamath tribes.

Living with an uncertain water supply and damaged fisheries takes its financial toll on the community, he said.

"You've got to look at the cost of not doing anything," said Mitchell. "It affects the consumer, it affects the public and it affects the economy."

As for the lack of transparency involved in the negotiations, KWUA's Addington agreed the circumstances are not ideal.

"I also know that it would never happen if it was a wide-open process," he said.

At this point, it's necessary to keep the talks private so the parties can negotiate freely, said Addington.

Once the details are settled, the agreement will be aired out during state and federal government processes required to win funding and approval for removing the dams, he said.

"It's no doubt going to test everybody's resolve," said Addington. At this point, though, the coalition between the once-feuding parties is strong, he said.

"We really have nothing to lose here," said Addington. "We've been in court, we've been in public relations battles, we've been in political battles, and nothing seems to work."

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