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Senator slams water proposal;

Those involved in negotiations say people should keep an open mind

Herald and News by Steve Kadel 1/13/08

The Klamath Basin water settlement agreement will cost $1 billion to implement over 10 years and contains no provision for add water storage, state Senator Doug Whitsett of Klamath Falls said Saturday.

"It doesn't sound like a very good deal to me," he said of the settlement, due to be released any day.

But Greg Addington, who has represented Klamath Project irrigators at the negotiating table, said it's too early to form opinions.

"I know our elected officials will not pass judgment until they have studied the document and heard all points of view from their constituents," he said. "At this point, the community should keep an open mind."

Commissioner John Elliott, who represented Klamath County at the settlement talks, was critical of Whitsett's comments.

"I'm very surprised and disappointed that the senator chose to pre-empt public comment, and even pre-empt the final draft," Elliott said. "It's even more surprising considering that he wasn't at the table.

"If the senator believes that the status quo is acceptable, and it must be since he is against the change that is represented by this document, then he has not written many checks to an attorney to protect his water, ranching or farming interests."

Addington and Elliott declined to comment further, citing a confidentiality agreement stakeholders agreed to.

Speaking during a legislative town hall session at he Klamath Basin Senior Center, Whitsett acknowledged he hasn't seen the final document.

However, information he's gathered from those involved indicate problems for local farmers and ranchers, he said.

The agreement would retire about 30,000 acre feet of water rights in the upper Basin, Whitsett said, adding that could severely damage the area's cattle industry. The document will supersede Oregon water rights, he said.

"We are incrementally losing our right to use water," he said.

Another provision gives about 80,000 acres of land along the Cascade Range to the Klamath Tribes, Whitsett said. The "Mazama Project," which runs from Sun Mountain to the Chemult area, will become sovereign Indian property.

Community dissent

One of the 30 citizens who attended the town hall meeting asked how the settlement could be blocked.

"Loud, vociferous community dissent," Whitsett replied. "From what I've heard about it, I have huge concerns."

The senator said that off-Project irrigators and the Hoopa Valley Tribe of California are not endorsing the settlement.

Other issues

State Reps. Bill Garrard of Klamath Falls and George Gilman of Medford also appeared at the meeting. The three Republican legislators discussed issues ranging from Oregon State Police staffing levels to partisan politics and funding for Oregon Institute of Technology.

Garrard warned that funding to complete construction of the second phase of OIT's Martha Anne Dow Center for Health Professions is not a sure thing.

"Don't count on it," he said, adding that lawmakers won't know the budget forecast until Feb.  15. Whether the money will be available will become clearer than, Garrard said.

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