Basin water bill goes before Senate

Basin water bill goes before Senate
Legislation introduced to make agreements reality
Herald & News

May 22, 2014

The much-anticipated Klamath Basin water bill aimed at resolving decades-old water disputes in the Basin was introduced in the U.S. Senate Wednesday.

The proposed law was introduced Wednesday by Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, all Democrats. The bill will be referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which Wyden is a member, according to a press release.

“It’s a day we’ve all looked forward to for a very long time. This is about the whole Basin moving forward together and not leaving any parties behind,” said Becky Hyde, an Upper Basin Water Users Association member and rancher.

If passed, the legislation will put into law the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (UKBCA) signed last month and provide funding and federal mechanisms to move forward the 2010 Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA).

“We’re pleased. We’ve been working toward this for a long, long time,” said Klamath Water Users Association executive director Greg Addington. “If ever there was a year that a comprehensive plan makes sense, this is the year.”

Addington collaborated on the KBRA and KHSA.

After the Klamath Basin Task Force was appointed last July by Wyden, irrigators and officials worked for months to develop a pact balancing the needs of upper Basin water stakeholders. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and other dignitaries met on the banks of Spring Creek in Chiloquin with the Klamath Tribes and irrigators to sign the agreement in April.

Addressing the dams

The KBRA and the related KHSA seek to establish reliable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators, and promote fish habitat restoration. The agreements also support the removal of four dams on the Klamath River and aim to help the Klamath Tribes acquire the 92,000-acre Mazama Tree Farm.

“We consider the settlement to be one agreement and reintroduction is a hopeful step moving forward the broader settlement through Congress,” said PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely. PacifiCorp owns the dams on the Klamath River.

Merkley introduced legislation supporting the KBRA and KHSA in 2011, but the bill never advanced beyond a Senate hearing last year, according to Gravely.

The new comprehensive Senate bill gives congressional authorization to the Department of the Interior to act and achieve the agreement’s benefits: increased stream flows into Upper Klamath Lake, more water certainty to irrigators, improved and protected riparian areas and economic development for the Klamath Tribes.

The legislation also authorizes agreement conditions that settle water rights disputes through the KBRA and the KHSA.

“After nine months of hard work by the Tribes, ranchers and government officials to craft an agreement that benefits the upper Klamath Basin and those who rely on it, it is now time for Congress to step up,” Wyden said in the release.

“The people of the Basin have set aside their differences for the benefit of the region. Congress should follow their example, pass this legislation and put the Klamath Basin on the road to recovery,” he said.

Merkley commended Basin stakeholders who chose cooperation over conflict, and he vowed to support the comprehensive legislation.

Up for a fight

Jim McCarthy, communications director for WaterWatch of Oregon, said as a combined package, the agreements’ claims of overall water demand and cost reduction don’t bear up to basic scrutiny.

He said the 2010 agreements do not allocate enough water to prevent bird die-offs in Basin refuges or fish die-offs in the Klamath River.

“This just doesn’t provide the amount of water needed to solve the water problems in the Klamath Basin,” McCarthy said.

Craig Tucker, the Karuk Tribe Klamath coordinator, called the legislation a “package deal” and said the agreements are carefully crafted so stakeholders receive their “bargained for benefit.”

“It’s been a longtime coming. For the Tribes in the Basin, it’s been 150 years coming,” he said. “We realize we have a big fight to pass this through Congress. It’s a fight we are going to take on.”

Feinstein pointed out that the agreements authorized by the bill will improve water reliability, environmental recovery and economic growth for California stakeholders, as well.

“The people of the Basin are ready to move forward with the historic agreement between the Klamath Tribes and upper Basin water users. Now it is up to Congress to take the final steps to rebuild prosperity in the region,” Kitzhaber said. “This is the culmination of a decade-long effort to support the vitality of the river and all who depend upon it.”