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Date narrowed for Klamath summit

Tam Moore
Capital Press 11/17/06

REDDING, Calif. - Ready or not, there's going to be a Klamath summit next month.

Suzanne Knapp, a REDDING, Calif. - Ready or not, there's going to be a Klamath summit next month.

Suzanne Knapp, anatural resources adviser to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, told last week's Klamath Watershed Conference that her boss and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger settled on the week of Dec. 11 for a one-day meeting at Klamath Falls, Ore. The exact day is up to Bush administration Cabinet secretaries pledged to attend.

"We are ready to lend a hand to help you solve these problems," she told a room full of stakeholders who waited until the final day of their conference to get the summit update. "We need to celebrate accomplishments and provide the staff and resources" to move forward.

Knapp described this winter as "a window of opportunity" to resolve contentious issues over allocation of water, its purity and declining fish runs.

The governors gave two dates in the mid-December week to the U.S secretaries of Interior and Commerce. "We hope the weather cooperates, and ask stakeholders to bring solutions to the table and inform us on the issues," Knapp said. Key players contacted by Capital Press said they had yet to get invitations to participate.

There's a history of conflict in the 10 million-acre basin shared by Oregon and California. It dates from Gold Rush days and non-ratification of an 1851 treaty with some of the basin's American Indian tribes.

Drought and poor water quality underlie more recent events that grabbed public attention. There was the 2001 denial of federal irrigation water to 1,100 upper-basin farms, a massive fish kill in the late summer of 2002, and the crash in natural fall chinook salmon returns that this year closed all but a fraction of the commercial ocean trollers' season.

But the three-day conference, organized by a coalition of groups and agencies with interest in resolving Klamath issues, ended without a formal list of recommendations. It did produce lists of restoration projects favored by many of the 270 people attending and repeated warnings that the once-famed Klamath River salmon runs remain in trouble.

"The status of fish in this basin is not good. We don't understand all the factors. Some we can't influence," said Phil Detrich, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Klamath team leader. "We need to be very candid about the complexities of things we don't understand."

It's not just fish that are in trouble, said Ron Hathaway of Oregon State University's Klamath County Extension office. Hathaway, part of the conference organizing committee, said the basin's small timber-dependent communities are hurting economically.

Two keynote speakers, from Wallowa County in northeast Oregon and Lake County in southeast Oregon, talked of community solutions that restored some jobs connected with federal forests.

The U.S. Forest Service, which drastically cut timber harvest in the 1990s, manages 54 percent of the land area in the Klamath Basin.

Jane O'Keeffe, the Lake County speaker, listed the troubles her community group wrestled with in seeking a sustainable economic base for their county. Among her pieces of advice is don't call for a summit if you haven't done your homework as a community.

"Don't let anybody else, federal or private, drive the (stakeholder) process," she said. Ensure that it "collaboratively arrived at a solution" to issues.

"On this summit, if you don't have something for them to work on, tell them to wait," she said. "Get it right."

That viewpoint was echoed by Alice Kilham, the Klamath Falls businesswoman who last month stepped down after 10 years as chairman and federal representative on the Klamath River Compact Commission.

"We've got to come up with the program," Kilham said, "and tell them what we need."
Two groups file petitions
The federal government has dropped its appeal of a court order overturning part of a federal prescription for protecting Klamath River coho salmon, but the Klamath Water Users Association and Pacific Legal Foundation this week jumped into the ongoing legal battle.

The KWUA petition to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals challenges two parts of a March 27 order by Judge Sandra Armstrong that mandates a 100,000 acre feet water bank to supplement downstream flows and directs National Marine Fisheries Service to revise its Klamath coho biological opinion.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations brought the suit challenging a water plan that's supposed to guide the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Project for the 10 years that end in 2012. Armstrong faulted what are called "reasonable and prudent" alternatives to protect coho from harm.

NMFS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Reclamation are gathering data for what they expect will be consultations delivering new biological opinions in spring 2008.

"We realize this could become moot if reconsultation happens in the spring of 2008," said Greg Addington, executive director of KWUA. "But we need to preserve some legal options."

The irrigators' two big points:

The lower court said when NMFS supplemented its 2002 findings, it had to redo the environmental impact statement. "We think they should be able to supplement without a full-blown EIS," Addington said.

The water bank itself makes a call on water stored in facilities paid for by irrigators, diverting use of water from farm crops to environmental purposes.

- Tam Moore


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