County withdraws from KBRA

County withdraws from KBRA
Commissioners voice concerns over impact on Klamath’s economy
By Samantha Tipler
Klamath Falls Herald & News

February 26, 2013

Klamath County Commissioners plan to remove themselves and the county from the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

At their regular meeting Tuesday morning, all three commissioners voted to draft an order for Klamath County to withdraw from the KBRA. County Counsel Dave Groff will write up the order and the commissioners will review and sign it next week.

Commissioner Tom Mallams, who campaigned against the KBRA before being elected, said he thinks there is a better way to address the water needs of the Klamath Basin. “The KBRA was a noble effort to get parties together,” Mallams said. “It was a noble effort but it does not do what we need it to do.”

But Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Basin Water Users Association, said the county cannot withdraw from the KBRA because the county is a signatory to the contract, regardless of how individual commissioners may feel on the issue.

The commissioners’ decision came after a hearing Feb. 12 where more than 70 people spoke on either side of the KBRA divide, and after the commissioners received and reviewed hundreds of emails and letters on the subject.

The KBRA and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement seek to establish reliable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators, restore fish habitat, help the Klamath Tribes acquire the 92,000-acre Mazama Tree Farm and remove four dams on the Klamath River.

In November, former county commissioners Cheryl Hukill and Al Switzer carried the vote to support a two-year extension to the agreement. Commission Chairman Dennis Linthicum, the only one to stay on the board, voted against it.

Because of that action, and Klamath County already being a party to the KBRA, the commissioners can’t take the action they decided on Tuesday, Addington said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

“They can’t withdraw,” Addington said. “I’m curious to see what kind of documentation they come up with.”

In drafting the KBRA, the contract was made to bind entities, not people, Addington said. As an example, Addington said some parties worried that if the Klamath Tribal Council was replaced with new members, the tribe may try to withdraw.

“It’s ironic that it’s the county that’s trying to pull out,” he said. “We made it a binding contract for those very reasons.”

If the county succeeds in withdrawing, it would set a dangerous precedent not only for the KBRA, but for water settlements in general, he added.

During the meeting Commissioner Jim Bellet argued actions of a past board of commissioners cannot bind “legislative action” by the new board. He said that gives the new board the ability to withdraw.