Objections to Klamath deal omitted?

Objections to Klamath deal omitted?
WaterWatch of Oregon, others want objections included in formal record
By Andrew Clevenger
The Bulletin

November 27, 2014

WASHINGTON — Several Oregon groups that oppose the Klamath Basin deal pending in Congress are concerned their objections weren’t considered when members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation earlier this month.

WaterWatch of Oregon, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Oregon Wild were not invited to testify at a June 3 committee meeting, so the groups submitted written testimony for inclusion in the written record of the hearing, Jim McCarthy, a spokesman for WaterWatch of Oregon, told The Bulletin this week. Their submissions were not included in the written record, and the committee voted to approve the bill earlier this month.

“We’re just concerned, and we want to find out, if the committee was able to consider all of the submitted testimony before they passed the bill on to the full Senate,” he said. “If they didn’t, that’s a real problem and a real mistake by the committee.”

McCarthy said he has been unable to get any answers from members of the committee staff.

Requests by The Bulletin for comment from the offices of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and from Sen. Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat who chairs the panel, went unanswered.

Federal legislation is needed to codify the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement, an effort to develop a water-sharing plan for competing claims on limited water, including those of the Klamath Tribes, irrigators and ranchers and environmentalists, who want to see more water dedicated to fish and wildlife. The deal was signed in April, just more than a year after the Oregon Water Resources Department adjudicated the issue following 38 years of litigation.

Under the principle of first in time, first in right, the Klamath Tribes were awarded top claim on much of Upper Klamath Lake and portions of its tributaries. But should high-priority rights holders exercise a “call” on their water claim during particularly dry years, ranchers and irrigators worry they wouldn’t have enough water for their livestock and crops.

While most of the participants in the Klamath Basin Task Force, formed by Gov. John Kitzhaber, signed off on the deal, WaterWatch, which participated in the task force, did not agree to support the deal, McCarthy said. While the deal promotes water sharing by some groups, it also over-promises on the water available, making massive fish die-offs like the one that occurred in 2002 likely in drought years, he said.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both D-Ore., are co-sponsors of the bill formalizing the Klamath deal. As a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Wyden was vocal in urging his colleagues to support the bill when it was voted out of committee earlier this month.

Wyden spokesman Keith Chu said Wednesday he didn’t know why the written testimony from WaterWatch and others hadn’t been included in the written record of the June hearing and referred the matter to the committee. Wyden is well-aware of the groups’ concerns, Chu said, noting that a representative of WaterWatch participated in a hearing on the matter in June 2013.

“Senator Wyden’s staff talked to the conservationists who had a different point of view a number of times, so it’s not as though their view wasn’t heard,” Chu said. “He respects their view, of course, but ultimately the judgment was to move forward due to the wide support in the basin.”

Wyden does support having the testimony in the record, and his staff is following up with committee staff to see how to make that happen, Chu said.

If the Klamath legislation is not passed before a new Congress is sworn in in January, it must be re-introduced and go through the committee process again because pending legislation expires at the end of each Congress.