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Commission rejects Basin water petition

July 30, 2005 by TODD KEPPLE, Herald and News

The Oregon Water Resources Commission on Friday unanimously denied a petition by environmentalists to stop issuing new water rights in the Klamath Basin.

Portland-based WaterWatch was joined by 10 other groups in asking the commission to put the Basin's surface and groundwaters off-limits to applications for any new water rights.

Agricultural interests in the Basin opposed the move that would have made it impossible to get water rights for new wells or reservoirs. The staff of the Oregon Water Resources Department also recommended the commission deny the petition.

The Water Resources Commission includes seven citizens appointed by the governor to set policy for and oversee the Oregon Water Resources Department.

The petition submitted to the commission by WaterWatch claimed the Klamath Basin's waters are already overappropriated, and are depleted by drought conditions. Aquifers below the Basin are declining, even as the state continues to issue water rights for new wells, the petition stated.

Phil Ward, director of the Oregon Water Resources Department, acknowledged the Klamath Basin's waters are over-appropriated during times of the year when streamflows are low and demands for water are high.

But during winter months, when flows are higher and demand for water is low, there is an opportunity to set water aside for later use, Ward said in a recommendation to the commission.

"In the Klamath Basin, off-season storage is a key component to augmenting water supplies," Ward's recommendation said. "Increasing supply without further aggravating the basin's over-appropriated condition will require a combination of off-season storage and groundwater use that does not adversely affect surface water flows."

Debbie Colbert, a water policy analyst for the Water Resources Department, said the commission on Friday asked for more information about water issues in the Klamath Basin.

"They gave our department a lot of guidance, and requested that we come back in October, and that we schedule a more thorough discussion of our department's permitting activities, and some of the monitoring efforts that we're doing," Colbert said.

The commission is scheduled to meet Oct. 27-28 at a location to be determined.

The petition was presented Friday by Lisa Brown and Bob Hunter of WaterWatch, joined by Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

Barry Norris, technical services administrator for the Water Resources Department, presented the agency's response to the petition.

Offering public comments against the petition were Sam Henzel, a director in the Klamath Drainage District; Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District; and Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association.

Organizations that signed on to the WaterWatch petition included the Oregon Natural Resources Council, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Headwaters, Klamath Forest Alliance, Friends of the River, World Wildlife Fund, North Coast Environmental Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Trout Unlimited.

On the Net: For copies of documents related to Friday's discussion of Klamath Basin water, go to www.wrd.state.or.us , click on Commission, Staff Reports, "Obtain electronic copies of these reports," July 2005, Agenda Item M.




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