Oregon's governor-elect Kulongoski to focus on Klamath

Capital Press Staff Writer

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Oregon’s governor-elect met with Klamath Basin farmers, tribal and environmental interests last week, just one day after his economic summit in Portland.

The trip encouraged parties to the longstanding Klamath water dispute. At one point Gov.-elect Ted Kulongoski said he had never dealt with an issue as complex, and that if folks living in the basin and the government can resolve Klamath, “that will be the highlight” of his four years as governor.

Nearly 1,200 farmers within the Klamath Project were refused water in April 2001. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said a drought-shortened water supply would be allocated to protect ESA-listed fish in Upper Klamath Lake and coho salmon in the Klamath River. The project straddling the California-Oregon border until then had delivered irrigation water each spring since 1907.

This week irrigation districts within the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Project got more good news as President Bush signed into law a bill that refunds operation and maintenance money paid to BuRec in 2001.

“I appreciate his lending a hand to our efforts to restore a bit of fairness to an immensely unfair situation,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. “While we’ve made progress on many fronts over the past year to bring long-term stability to the Klamath Basin, much work remains to be done.”

Kulongoski met with Klamath Water Users Association, the irrigator’s group, shared a car with Allen Foreman, chairman of the Klamath Tribal Council, and peppered members of the Upper Klamath Working Group with questions.

With leaders of the water users, Kulongoski declared agriculture is important to Oregon’s economy. Harold Hartman, a Malin farmer, asked for support on watershed-wide planning and actual recovery of endangered species.

Marshall Staunton, the Tulelake farmer who is chairman of the upper basin working group, said folks pushed Kulongoski for support of a recovery plan for the entire river drainage shared by Oregon and California.

The Kulongoski meetings came shortly after environmental groups filed new rounds of lawsuits over Klamath operations. Among the latest is an Oregon Natural Resources Council suit charging that Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality didn’t consult with fishery agencies before giving Klamath Irrigation District a permit to use aquatic herbicides in canals.

Dan Keppen, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, called it “just the latest in a series of actions taken by anti-irrigation interests based in areas outside of the Klamath Basin.”

Meanwhile, California Department of Fish and Game on Dec. 16 released a coastal salmon and steelhead recovery plan. The agency also promised a state position on causes of this September’s lower Klamath River fish kill. California Resources Secretary Mary Nichols, in an Oct. 11 letter to federal officials, attributed the 33,000-fish die-off to low flows related to federal irrigation decisions. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, lead agency investigating the fish kill, drew no conclusions in a preliminary report issued in late November.

Staunton said that as far as he knows, there’s been no federal response to an invitation from upper and lower river interests issued after an Oct. 16 joint meeting. Local officials asked Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, and other members of the Klamath task force appointed by Bush, to join them in talking through a process to end water wars.

“We clearly have to have that contact,” Staunton said, if problems are to be resolved.

Harry Carlson, superintendent of the University of California Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake, last week delivered his assessment of possibilities for resolve of issues.

“With most decisions based on hypothesis, theory and complex computer models that are hard to calibrate and interpret, controversy will continue,” Carlson said in a paper presented to the Western States Alfalfa and Forage Conference in Reno.


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