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Water issues dominate Merkley town hall
Senator speaks at high school Tuesday in Merrill
by SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 4/5/12
H&N photo by Samantha Tipler U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speaks at a town hall meeting at Lost River High School in Merrill Tuesday
MERRILL — Despite criticisms of his views on water policy and his support of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., commended the agreement at a town hall meeting at Lost River High School Tuesday.
Merkley told the crowd of 80 people he at first didn’t think the Klamath Basin could reach a resolution of any kind when it came to water.
“I thought ‘this will never happen. There will never be an agreement worked out.’ It is so hard. It’s like Middle East peace,” he said.
He was surprised to see an agreement reached, he said.
“The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement remains controversial,” he said, “but the fact is that stakeholders were sitting in a room, working together, and got to know each other.”
In November, Merkley introduced legislation to move aspects of the KBRA forward, including removing dams. This year, Merkley is pursuing hearings on the legislation, but has said in the meantime he plans to push portions of the agreement that don’t require legislation, such as finding funding in the federal budget.
Tuesday Merkley heralded additional work coming out of consensus built through the KBRA. That consensus, Merkley asserted, helped the Basin survive the 2010 drought. Cooperation between stakeholders, the Klamath Tribes, fisherman and farmers — along with $10 million in federal assistance — helped the area make it through the crisis, Merkley said.
“Most folks in Oregon don’t know the Klamath Basin had a drought two years ago,” he said.
Merkley’s confidence in the agreement didn’t stop locals from calling him out on it.
“You’re on the wrong side of the KBRA,” said Bill Adams, Klamath Falls City Council member. “It does not guarantee water. It does nothing to stop (the Endangered Species Act) from interrupting natural resource-based businesses.”
Mike King, a Klamath Falls farmer, said the majority of farmers were against the KBRA. He referenced a public hearing where he said 70 percent of the testimony was against the agreement.
“This is a no-win situation for everybody,” he said.
Merkley said a water agreement needs support from those living in the Basin.
“ Nothing can get through Congress that ultimately doesn’t have substantial support by the people,” he said.
Merkley agreed with another problem raised by Mathew Trotman, of Merrill, who asked about the effect of biological opinions on the ability of farmers to do their jobs.
“You have two conflicting biological opinions,” Merkley said. “One for fish in the lake and one for fish in the stream. So we’re trying to figure out how to basically harmonize those two pieces of the puzzle.”
He said the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife are working on that problem, but it is difficult.
Merkley was not surprised when water came up again and again as a topic. Even with the agreement, and with continued work with endangered species, he said the matter is far from settled.
“I think this is a debate that is going to continue,” he said.
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Page Updated: Saturday April 07, 2012 01:59 AM Pacific
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