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Merrill Townhall meeting with Klamath County Commissioners

4/5/09 by KBC News -- notes and quotes about the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement

Fourteen people attended the unadvertised Merrill Townhall meeting March 31st with the Klamath County Commissioners. Several Klamath Water Users Association, KWUA, board members attended as well as some community members. They mostly discussed the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the KBRA.

KWUA Bob Gasser told how 2001 was bad for the community. He told the commissioners if ag goes away, it will negatively impact the community.

He said, "When the water issue is solved, we're betting the farm on the Restoration Agreement, then they should move the bucket (that's in front of the Klamath Falls government building, that was brought in 2001 when the water was shut off to Klamath irrigators.)

He continued, "There are no guarantees in the Restoration Agreement."

Commissioner Al Switzer said, "Tell your story. This is productive land." He said we can't keep taking agricultural land out of production. "We are the largest exporter of potatoes to Asia in the U.S."

Merrill farmer John Walker said his farms are sustainable, and his son want to come back and farm. He said 'naysayers' who oppose the restoration agreement don't have a plan.

KWUA president Luther Horsley said, "We need certainty that the Restoration Agreement provides. This year we have nearly 100 percent snow pack, yet we have no water for our farms. We're working toward a non-jeopardy opinion."

Someone asked, "How can we get the commissioners to support the Agreement?"

Switzer said, "I have less hangups on dam removal; I don't think we can stop that. I believe we should have stronger language in the agreement on storage...I'd like to see a component of off stream storage."

The KBRA does not mandate off-stream storage like Long Lake valley, which could potentially collect excess water in the winter and provide 350,000 - 500,000 acre feet of cold water storage. The KBRA does, however, state that if the community does develop this storage, most of the water must go down the Klamath River into the ocean for fish.

"When push comes to shove, I'll probably go the way you want me to go," Switzer said regarding supporting the Agreement.

Commissioner Cheryl Hukill said that at a Klamath County Commissioners meeting earlier today with presentations by KWUA members, "I learned so much. I am leaning toward the agreement. You have a plan. I am impressed with Karl (Scronce) and Becky (Hyde) group.) She was referring to the new group of off-Project water users north of the Klamath Project.

Switzer said, "We want what's best for Klamath County. My calls are 10-1 against dam removal. I don't think they understand the ramifications of the whole thing. I'm not getting complaints against the farmer's plan; only the dams."

He said, "I think there are those people against the land return. It's going to happen. 90,000 acres for guaranteed water for ag. I have a problem with those people fighting this."

Switzer was referring to the mandate in the KBRA that gives the Klamath Tribes 90,000 acres, The Mazama Tree Farm, part of their historic that they sold when they voted for Termination. Off-Project irrigators are concerned about the ramifications if the Klamath Tribes fulfill their agenda for future land use and water rights on this proposed gift, as detailed in the Klamath Tribe document of intensions.

Gasser said a vote for the KBRA is not a vote against the off Project.

Switzer said it would be more expensive to pay for fish ladders than for dam removal.

Switzer and Hukill both said they would like to see the cost analysis of dam removal versus fish screens.

Commissioner John Elliott said, "I supported the Agreement three years ago. There is a KBRA meeting next week I want permission to attend."

Elliott spent three years attending the secret KBRA meetings with the 26 selected stakeholders, including Klamath River Tribes, 16 environmental groups, government agencies, Klamath, Siskiyou, and Humboldt Counties, and a representative for Klamath Water Users Association, KWUA. Elliott was later denied permission to attend because, with the mandatory rule that the public isn't allowed to know what the settlement group is negotiating, any information that Elliott would bring out of the meeting must become public record.

Elliott said a year ago we came out with KBRA draft 11 and it is still in draft form. When they make a final agreement and form a hydro agreement, we'll make some decision.

KWUA board member and KBRA negotiator Steve Kandra said Draft 12 will come out in June.

According to the Agreement In Principle, "The Parties shall in good faith negotiate a Final Agreement as soon as possible. If a Final Agreement is not fully executed by all the Parties by June 30, 2009, unless all Parties agree to an extension, each Party shall have a Right of Withdrawal from this Agreement"

The commissioners were told that the drought plan in the KBRA is not completed. The drought plan should tell irrigators if they will receive water on a drought year and if so, how much.

Commissioner Switzer said, "An Off-Project irrigator blasted me at lunch and said Keno Dam is coming out."

Commissioner Elliott said, "There are folks who want to hear bad news."

KBC was told previously by a KWUA board member, "Keno Dam maintains the water level in Klamath River from Keno to and including Lake Ewauna. If Keno dam is removed the water level in Klamath River would drop and there would be no irrigation for water users in the Klamath River. Some of those irrigators are: All with land adjacent to the Klamath River, KDD, Fish and Wildlife Service and .... TID."

We surmise that the Off-Project irrigator "blasting" Switzer was referring to a recently circulated agenda of a KBRA secret meeting that stated, "Jon Hicks from Rec has been approached with this question before .PC has been having discussions with Reclamation re Keno and Link River dam going forward towards an ultimate dam removal."

Kandra said, "I assure you, we'll do everything we can to be sure Keno and Link River Dams are protected. We'll be spending tens of millions of dollars for on infrastructure."

Siskiyou County opposes dam removal since three of the four dams to be removed are in Siskiyou County, and it would devastate their county. Commissioner Elliott said Siskiyou does not have our issues. He said Siskiyou County Commissioner Marcia Armstrong wrote a "bombastic article," because with dam removal, they won't have waterfront homes. He laughed that they could have "canyon front homes."

Elliott said he was disappointed when Siskiyou board voted against the Klamath Project keeping an affordable power rate.

Along with Siskiyou County, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen, Yurok and Hoopa Tribes, and PacifiCorp are groups/"new friends" at the KBRA table who petitioned against the Project Irrigators being allowed an affordable power rate. These groups are now at the closed-door bargaining table offering money for a power rate and "predictable" amounts of water, if KWUA agrees to Klamath River hydropower dam removal, downsizing agriculture, ending adjudication process by conceding the water rights to the Klamath Tribes "at the claimed amounts and the priority date of time immemorial," planting endangered fish in the upper basin, and giving the Mazama Tree Farm to the Klamath Tribes again.


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