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Water issues still the same for Basin

 January 31, 2005 by DYLAN DARLING

Federal and state officials tasked with prioritizing funding and finding a solution for ongoing Klamath water issues have set meetings for the top and bottom of the Klamath River Basin this spring to hear directly from the people involved.

"We want to have a meeting down there," said David Van't Hof, co-chair of the Klamath Basin Coordination Group and natural resources advisor to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

A Klamath Falls meeting is set for 1 p.m. March 15, although the venue hasn't been determined yet. The next day there will be a meeting in Eureka, Calif., near the mouth of the Klamath River.

"We felt it would be fair to make it accessible to both ends of the Klamath," said Art Baggett, the other co-chair and water policy advisor to California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger.

The coordination group was assembled last October when Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced an agreement among federal agencies and the states of California and Oregon to cooperate and collaborate on solving issues in the Klamath River watershed. Officials from state and federal agencies had been meeting informally for about two years, with the meetings held in Sacramento, Salem and Portland.

At the public meetings in March there will be updates on water issues, including what might happen during the irrigation season, officials said.

Early indications are 2005 will be another dry year in the Basin. Federal officials are trying to figure out how to reserve more water for protected salmon while debates continue about facts at the root of the water issues.

With two months to go until the start of irrigation season, Dave Sabo, Klamath Reclamation Project manager, said the water situation is hard to predict and officials will have a better picture in a few weeks.

"I'm not ready to say we have a problem," he said. "It's problematic, but it's too early to say."

Snowpack in the mountains ringing the Upper Basin is still at about half of normal for this time of year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"If the water situation stays the same way it is, it will be a tough year," said Jim Lecky, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

This could be the worst year so far in a string of dry years in the Basin, said Curt Mullis, manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Klamath Falls office. So far, things are tracking with 1992, one of the driest years on record in the Basin.

"Things aren't looking too good," Mullis said.

But February is usually a heavy snow month, and March can get some late winter storms, officials said.

At the coordination group's meetings, about two dozen officials from state and federal agencies will meet to organize efforts and determine where the agencies should focus their funding.

"The various governments are getting their houses in order," Van't Hof said. They meet about every two months.

The group by itself doesn't have any authority to spend money or form policy, but participants do through their various agencies, Baggett said. A goal of the group is to get the different officials agreeing on facts concerning the water issue, then they can get into discussion about what to do about them.

Baggett said goals for the group for this year include getting pollution loads determined, working on a settlement concerning the relicensing of PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River and improving day-to-day operations to avoid crisis.

Meanwhile, Bureau and Fisheries Service officials are waiting for the completion of two studies, both concerning flows on the Klamath River. Lecky said the reports should be done in the spring, allowing the service to begin revising its biological opinion for protecting coho.

If the studies, which have been delayed several times, are done in time, the new biological opinion could be in place by the 2006 irrigation season, Lecky said.

Until then, the existing biological opinion guiding management of coho will remain in place, including its requirement for the Bureau of Reclamation to have a 100,000 acre-foot water bank available to boost flows in the river.





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