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Walden's Klamath Water Bill Under Fire

Representative Greg Walden
Kevin Hume / Herald and News
US Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) during a recent visit to Klamath Falls.

At face value, a draft water bill released Thursday nets the Klamath Basin ag community water security, but does little to honor the bargained-for-benefits the Klamath, Karuk and Yurok tribes fought for during a years-long negotiation process.

“The draft bill leaves out dam removal and instead replaces it with a giveaway of public lands,” said Karuk Councilman Josh Saxon. “If there is no dam deal, there is no damn deal.”

The draft House bill was released after U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley met Thursday with several state and federal dignitaries to discuss the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act.

The act has been stalled in Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee since January. The bill released Thursday is intended to be introduced in the House. The act must pass both House and Senate before becoming law.

According to a news release, the House legislation provides water certainty for irrigators and directs the federal Bureau of Reclamation to provide affordable power for farmers, ranchers and communities in the Basin.

In exchange for 100,000 acres of timberland for economic development, the draft requires the Klamath Tribes to waive its senior water right.

“We are not relinquishing or waiving our water rights,” said Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry, explaining that through negotiations, the Tribes agreed to provide water in specified amounts to agriculture interests only if all other elements of the agreements are met.

The draft also denies tribal stakeholders’ request to have four dams removed from the Klamath River. The draft leaves the dam issue up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses the dams. Three of the four dams are in California and that state is seeking to move forward with dam relicensing. The dams are owned by PacifiCorps.

“We appreciate Congressman Walden introducing the discussion draft, but we’re certainly concerned about the absence of dam removal,” Gentry said.

The Senate version of the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act is made up of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the 2014 Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.

The bill aims to create water certainty for Basin ag producers and establish affordable power rates for farmers, ranchers and the Klamath refuge complex.

The Senate pact provides an economic package for the Klamath Tribes, and aims to restore aquatic and riparian habitat in tributaries of Upper Klamath Lake. It also calls for removing four dams — the J.C. Boyle, Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2 — from the Klamath River.

A new addition to the House version bill is a proposal to transfer 100,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land to both Klamath and Siskiyou counties. According to the release, the lands would be used for timber production to grow jobs in rural communities and to improve forest health.

In a joint statement, Wyden and Merkley said they believe the draft House legislation falls short of implementing the carefully negotiated stakeholder agreement.

“The giveaway of federal lands to counties is a known non-starter in the Senate. It also eliminates a provision on dam removal that is central to the bargain worked out over years of blood, sweat and tears,” the statement said.

Though despite the draft shirking expectations, Wyden and Merkley acknowledged having a House bill is a step forward.

“We will do whatever it takes to work with our colleagues in the House on something that reflects the stakeholders’ vision and can actually pass,” the statement said.

Copyright 2015 Herald and News