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KBRA in the works
Congressional approval critical step toward obtaining needed federal funding
by Sara Hottman, Herald and News Sept 9, 2011
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office is drafting legislation to implement the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement — a critical step toward obtaining necessary federal funding.
“The senator has been working with stakeholders since the agreement was signed,” said Courtney Warner Crowell, deputy communications director for Merkley’s office. Now, she said, his office is putting the intent of the KBRA into legislative language.
The agreement, signed in February 2010, aims to establish sustainable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators, restore fish habitats, and help the Klamath Tribes acquire a 92,000-acre parcel of private timberland, the Mazama Tree Farm.
Merkley, a Democrat, publicly endorsed the agreement in Klamath Falls days after it was signed — the first federal lawmaker to do so.
Because of his longtime support, parties to the agreement handed over their draft legislation to Merkley’s office to help move it to the federal level, said Greg Addington, director of the irrigator group Klamath Water Users Association.
“It doesn’t mean the bill’s passed and it doesn’t mean it’s going to get a hearing, but getting to the point where we’re working with a senator’s office to introduce legislation is a big deal,” Addington said.
Merkley’s office also is working with U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (both D-Calif.), as well as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Crowell said.
In the Senate, all Oregon and California lawmakers are Democrats, but Merkley has reached out to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and will continue to do so through the legislation writing process, she said.
“(Merkley) is committed to working with the ranchers, farmers, fishermen and tribes who worked so hard to develop a plan that will help the Basin provide more stability and predictability and create job opportunities,” Crowell wrote in an email.
“This isn’t a partisan plan,” she added. “It is a plan that was forged through collaboration and cooperation at the local level, and (Merkley) is committed to helping implement this local vision.”
Adding up the costs
As non-government parties in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement — irrigators, tribes, and fishermen in Oregon and California — drafted legislation to implement the agreement, they worked to trim its budget, which federal lawmakers last summer said was a hurdle to their support.
If all the provisions of the KBRA and the associated dam removal agreement are implemented, they’ll cost an estimated $1.5 billion. Most of the funding is supposed to come from the federal government.
The related Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement would remove four PacifiCorp hydroelectric dams, pending feasibility studies and a determination by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
“There was a concerted effort among the parties to fine-tune the budget and find ways to lower the cost,” said Greg Addington, director of the Klamath Water Users Association. “I just don’t know how the legislation will ultimately deal with the issue of budget and the Congressional process of authorization or appropriations.”
Stakeholders also focused on honing the language in sections of legislation most important to their constituents — power rates for irrigators and relinquishment of water claims for the Klamath Tribes.
“There are no surprises,” Addington said. “(Legislation) is just implementing what the KBRA says it’s going to do.”
Larry Dunsmoor, aquatic specialist with the Klamath Tribes, said the parties focused on making language reflect as accurately as possible the goals agreed upon in the KBRA.
“As we go into legislation of a complex agreement, we’re always concerned that the language in the legislation correctly captures the intent of the agreement,” Dunsmoor said. “It’s pretty scary because if the legislation is worded slightly differently it could end up having an entirely different meaning than intended in the agreement.
“Everyone spent a lot of time looking at it, thinking about it.”
Parties opposed to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement have tried a number of tactics to undermine implementation of the agreement, including legal challenges.
Water for Life Inc., an agriculture advocacy organization, sued the Oregon Water Resources Department in December 2009, two months before the agreement was signed, for its participation in the KBRA negotiations.
On July 28, a judge ruled in favor of the state and dismissed the lawsuit.
“The department’s role has been to ensure that any agreements resulting from the KBRA are consistent with Oregon water law,” Brenda Bateman, senior policy coordinator with the Water Resources Department, wrote in an email. “The department believes that the current version of the KBRA is consistent with Oregon water law.”
Water for Life Inc., said the department did not have the authority to enter into contracts such as the restoration agreement, and on Dec. 31, 2009, filed a request for a temporary restraining order.
A judge denied the order on Jan. 7, 2010, and the Water Resources Department became a party to the agreement, which means it will support the KBRA’s implementation.
In August 2010 and again in December 2010, Water for Life Inc., filed amended complaints. In July the complaints were dismissed.
However, after the dismissal Water for Life Inc., filed a request for reconsideration followed by a notice of voluntary dismissal. Since the voluntary dismissal was filed before the judgment was formally entered, the organization could refile its case without the conditions in the judge’s oral ruling.
The department believes Water for Life Inc., intentionally filed the voluntary dismissal for that purpose, Bateman said.
Calls to Water for Life Inc., and its associates were not returned by Thursday afternoon.
Page Updated: Thursday September 15, 2011 04:49 AM Pacific
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