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Tribes say Klamath project budget reductions violate pact

Tribes want fisheries funded to restore original level

by TIM HEARDEN Capital Press September 16, 2011

REDDING, Calif. -- The fragile balance among signatories to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement may be tested in the coming weeks as basin tribes have requested more money for fisheries.

The Klamath Tribes assert certain funding levels were agreed upon in return for their relinquishing potential water management-related legal claims against the U.S. government.

However, a coordinating committee tightened budgets this summer to reflect "anticipation of funding needs and the fiscal atmosphere in Congress," said Bud Ullman, the Chiloquin, Ore.-based attorney for the Klamath Tribes. The Karuk and Yurok tribes have similar concerns, their representatives said.

Specifically, cost estimates for implementing the KBRA were slashed from nearly $970.5 million over 10 years to $798.5 million over 15 years. Fisheries restoration, reintroduction and monitoring were cut from $493.8 million to $421.5 million, although money for tribes was increased from $65.25 million to $87 million.

The agreement was to include numerous fisheries restoration projects in the basin as well as the planned removal of four hydroelectric dams in the Klamath River.

"I think everyone's familiar with the fact that (fisheries projects) took a big hit financially for reasons that everyone knows," Ullman said. "That had the unintended effect of diminishing the value of the relinquishments the tribes are providing to the United States."

The tribes want funding "anchored at the June 17, 2011 level so that this thing just can't happen again," he said.

Ullman outlined the tribes' concerns during the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council's Sept. 9 meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn here. Tribal leaders had considered initiating a more formal dispute process but didn't for fear that critics would seize on it to scuttle the agreement, the attorney said.

In addition to tribal concerns, the council will consider other changes to the pact this winter, including deleting references to organizations that did not sign the agreement and updating member groups' responsibilities or schedules.

Council facilitator Ed Sheets characterized the changes as "minor" and said amendments will be sent to each of the panel's participating entities for concurrence. He said he hopes to get the issues resolved by the end of the year.

The changes will likely be a topic at the council's next meeting in November at a site to be determined. The council's meetings rotate among several cities in Oregon and California.

The effort has marked a sometimes uneasy truce among entities engaged in a century-old fight over limited water in the basin. The pact has faced persistent opposition among local residents and a wary eye in the U.S. House of Representatives, which voted earlier this year to deprive it of funding in a stopgap spending measure.

A pair of studies released this summer agreed removal of the dams would improve conditions for imperiled salmon in the river, although uncertainties remain. The results of other feasibility studies are expected within the next several weeks.

Studies gauging impacts on everything from sediment levels in the river to recreation and the economy will be crucial as U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar prepares to make a determination of the dam removals' feasibility by March 2012. The project still must be authorized and funded by Congress.

The original agreement was formed with an understanding among all parties that "the tribes more than likely have claims against the United States for mismanaging resources over the years," Ullman asserted. The tribes believe they're owed reimbursement for loss of their water rights and resulting "injuries to hunting, fishing, gathering rights or other activities," according to the text of the agreement.

"One of the things the United States and the tribes want to do in reaching an agreement of this sort is dispose of those potential claims," Ullman said.

Council member Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said he doesn't think the tribes' request will cause a delay in implementing the pact.

"It does show the agreement is doing what it was intended to do -- to be there to respond to needs as we go and to be adaptable," Spain said in an interview. "It's the true meaning of adaptive management."

In other business Sept. 9, Sheets announced a final drought plan called for in the agreement has been sent to Salazar for review. The plan outlines such dry-year measures as water transfers, forbearance agreements and use of ground water.



Klamath Basin Coordinating Council: http://www.edsheets.com/Klamathdocs.html

Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement: http://klamathrestoration.govs


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