By TAM MOORE, Capital
Oregon - 3/11/02 - President George Bush told three Cabinet
secretaries late last week to get on with solving problems brought
on by the 2001 drought and conflict between endangered species
habitat and water for a 97-year-old federal irrigation project.
and state legal issues have made for difficult times in the
Klamath River Basin,” Bush said in a statement accompanying a
memorandum directing the secretaries of Interior, Agriculture and
Commerce to form the Klamath River Basin Federal Working Group.
It’s charged with
finding short- and long-term solutions to basin water problems
brought to national attention by the April 2001 order canceling
irrigation deliveries to 90 percent of farmland within the Klamath
Project astride the California-Oregon border near Klamath Falls,
“We look at this as
a clear sign of his commitment,” said Dan Keppen, executive
director of Klamath Water Users Association. “It’s going to
take some powerful people to pull this all together; it’s a real
After a series of
weekend water-user leadership meetings and phone calls, which
included an indication that Bush will involve himself in other
ways, pointing toward a Klamath solution, Keppen said the
association will press Interior Secretary Gale Norton to “assign
an individual point person” to Klamath issues.
That link is critical
to assuring ideas from the Cabinet-level group “are being
implemented at the local level,” Keppen said.
Norton is directed to
head the working group, and the White House Council on
Environmental Quality is given a seat along with the three Cabinet
secretaries. In effect, the working group is a stripped-down
version of the Klamath Task Force proposed in the Senate version
of the farm bill.
That legislation is
caught up in congressional conference committee negotiations this
week; some observers say it may take weeks to reconcile the
legislation with House and Senate $3.7 billion dollars apart on
positive that we’ve succeeded in elevating this issue to the
highest levels of the federal government,” said Rep. Greg
Walden, R-Ore. “I know from personal conversations with the
president that he’s very committed to fixing problems in the
basin and getting water to farmers and ranchers.”
Bush’s action came
two days after U.S. Bureau of Reclamation delivered a final
biological assessment for Klamath Project operations from 2002
Commissioner John Keys was reported saying preliminary snowpack
information indicates project farmers should get full water supply
this year. Others close to the situation say there’s no
assurance until Endangered Species Act consultations are over and
BuRec issues the actual 2002 operating plan.
Project irrigation season starts April 1.
Norton’s staff met
March 5 to put the working group into motion. Eric Ruff, a
spokesman for the secretary, said the full working group holds its
organizing session the afternoon of March 8.
“There are a couple
of things they could decide to take action on,” Ruff said, but
he predicted most of the meeting will deal with potential issues
as seen by the three departments and CEQ.
A CEQ staff member,
Bill Leary, participated in the May 2001 Klamath issues conference
held less than two months after BuRec withheld Klamath Project
water. Chairman Alice Kilham of the Klamath River Compact
Commission said last week Leary has continued work on ways to
coordinate federal agencies.
Interior already has
two Klamath advisory groups, in addition to the compact commission
formed by the states of California and Oregon plus the federal
government. The Klamath River Fisheries Task Force has studied
downstream issues for more than 15 years. The 7-year-old Upper
Basin Working Group concentrates on habitat above Iron Gate Dam.
Each has unfunded project wish lists, including one on additional
upper basin water storage locations that BuRec is investigating
under a 2000 appropriation.
Ruff said he has no
idea how those project lists, or the $175 million Klamath
appropriation that’s in the Senate farm bill, will play in
relation to the Cabinet working group’s study.
connection between the Klamath amendment in the farm bill and the
Bush-ordered working group, Ruff said.
president on immediate steps and long-term solutions to enhance
water quality and quantity and to deal with other complex issues
in the Klamath River Basin.”
- March 1 memorandum
order by President Bush
The secretary of
Interior is directed to preside over a group of federal employees
drawn from the departments of Agriculture, Interior and Commerce
plus the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
encouraged to seek input from stakeholders, including members of
the farming and fishing communities; residents of the basin;
representatives of conservation, environmental, and water-use
organizations, and existing coordinating entities; the states of
Oregon and California; local governments; and representatives of
Klamath River Basin Tribal governments.”
Bush told the Cabinet
secretaries to get the package together not later than July 31,