Basin water pact stalled in Senate

Basin water pact stalled in Senate
Herald & News

July 12, 2015

Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River

Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River. Supporters of federal Klamath legislation have admitted the river’s outdated dams will come out even without bill passage.

Parties to the Klamath water settlements are stuck treading water until lawmakers make a move to push the Basin’s landmark water pact forward.

The Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, Senate Bill 133, has not experienced any movement since January, when it was introduced in the first week of the 2015 congressional session. The bill was referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Jan. 8.

Although the Senate energy committee will be session July 13 through August 7, SB 133 is not slated to go before the committee anytime soon, according to committee spokesman Michael Tadeo.

“There’s nothing scheduled at this point,” he said.

SB 133 encompasses the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the Upper Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. Together, the three agreements attempt to establish reliable water and affordable power rates for farmers and ranchers, and the Klamath refuge complex. The pact also provides an economic package for the Klamath Tribes, and aims to restore aquatic and riparian habitat in tributaries of Upper Klamath Lake and to remove four dams on the Klamath River.

Water stakeholders had hoped SB 133 could be attached to a year-end spending bill and delivered to President Barack Obama’s desk for approval in 2014. Although the spending bill was approved, the water settlement died on the Senate floor.

Bill sponsors Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, reintroduced the bill in the first week of the 2015 congressional session.

“Not a whole lot has changed, unfortunately,” said Matt Vickery, the deputy director of the Klamath Water Users Association. “The parties are still committed to seeing it through. It’s our hope for more water security in the future.”

Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry said settlement parties are optimistic and working to tie up the bill’s loose ends, especially those concerning removing four dams — the J.C. Boyle, Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2 — from the Klamath River.

“Those dams are going to come out whether we have the KBRA or not. Those dams — their days are numbered,” said Craig Tucker, a spokesman for the Karuk Tribe.

According to Tucker, receiving blessings from U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., is the bill’s biggest hurdle. Walden represents Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses much of Oregon east of the Cascades; LaMalfa represents California’s 1st District, which includes Siskiyou and Modoc counties.

“We’re essentially kind of stuck on the desk of Walden and LaMalfa,” Tucker said. “We need those guys to have some backbone and show some leadership.”

Stakeholders plan to continue rallying support until the bill is approved, Gentry said.

“Sen. Merkley continues to work with Sen. Wyden and (Rep.) Walden to move the Klamath Basin legislation forward and conversations with stakeholders, as well as with other members of Congress, are ongoing. Sen. Merkley is eager to see legislation move at the earliest possible date,” Merkley Spokeswoman Courtney Warner-Crowell wrote in an email.

Gentry said he could not wager a guess as to what will happen if the Basin-wide water settlement does not reach the president’s desk in 2015.

“It’s critical legislation move forward this year,” Gentry said. “I think the changes of trying to move legislation next year — during a presidential election year — is pretty slim.”

SB 133 is considered a landmark bill because it represents one of the first times Basin tribes, farmers, environmental and political groups are on the same page, according to Tucker.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” he said.

According to the website, SB 133 has a 21 percent chance of being enacted.