[env-trinity] Times- Standard:Weighing in on water issues: Local officials testify at Klamath Basin hearing in D.C.

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Fri Jun 21 07:44:19 PDT 2013


Weighing in on water issues: Local officials testify at Klamath Basin hearing in D.C.

Kaci Poor and Catherine Wong/The Times-Standard
Posted:   06/21/2013 02:43:28 AM PDT
Updated:   06/21/2013 02:43:28 AM PDT

Click photo to enlarge

Local officials present at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday came away optimistic, but firm in their convictions that Congress must act now to address long-standing water issues in the Klamath Basin.
Led by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., stakeholders at Thursday's hearing discussed options that would reduce the cost of an agreement to restore tribal fisheries and guarantee water for irrigators, and to resolve issues that remain divisive in the basin.
In 2010, more than 40 parties signed the two-part Klamath River Agreements, looking for a resolution to the long history of conflict in the basin stemming from scarce water resources and competition.
One of the agreements deals with water, fish and farming. The other deals with removing four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River to allow salmon to return to the upper basin for the first time in a century.
Although legislation to put the agreements into effect was introduced in the last congressional session, it went nowhere. The price tag and the idea of taking down Klamath River dams have been a hard sell, particularly in the House.
As Congress continues to work to identify and make improvements to the agreements in order to enact them, Craig Tucker, Klamath River coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, said action is needed now.
are unable to get the water they need this summer.     

Tucker, who attended Thursday's hearing as a representative, said 70,000 to 100,000 head of cattle will be going without food if ranchers 
Last week, when the Klamath Tribes and federal government exercised their senior water rights on tens of thousands of acres of land in the Klamath River Basin, those with junior rights were suddenly faced with potential shut-offs.
The tribes want to protect flows for fish in rivers running through their former reservation lands. The government is securing water for a federal irrigation project and wildlife refuges downstream.
”We are either going to see a fish kill because of the lack of water, a bird kill because of the lack of fish, or a cattle kill because of the lack of feed,” Tucker said. “If there was ever an incentive for Congress to act, it's now.”
Tucker said that tribes and irrigators have been looking for ideas, but he thinks they've pursued most of the alternatives.
”We all share a common destiny,” he said. “We're all going to suffer perennial conflict or we could work together toward some sort of solution.”
Although he agrees that a resolution is needed, Humboldt County 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said he was pleasantly surprised by far how the issue has progressed since he first became involved nine years ago.
”At that time, dam removal was not on the table,” said Lovelace, who spoke at Thursday's hearing in support of the agreements on behalf of the county. “It wasn't even up for discussion. The only thing up for discussion was under what terms would the dams be relicensed for another 50 years.”
”A lot of the folks sitting in the rooms together -- environmentalists, tribe members, ranchers, fishermen -- they didn't know each other back then,” he said. “They didn't trust each other. To see in nine years, those groups could come to be working together on a proposal that calls for the removal of the four dams... It just shows incredible progress and an incredible way forward.”
Lovelace said those present at Thursday's meeting received pledges of support from both Wyden and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the ranking member of the committee, stating that they are committed to make the agreements happen.
”It is clear to me that this is moving forward,” Lovelace said. “In what form, what the specifics are, what changes may or may not happen and how swiftly it moves -- all of those things remain uncertain. But I didn't hear anyone on the committee -- frankly I didn't hear any opponents of the agreements -- expressing that we should go backwards.”
Despite Lovelace's positive outlook, Klamath Riverkeeper Executive Director Konrad Fisher -- who followed the hearing, but was not in attendance -- said the people who depend on the river for jobs, food, recreation and cultural survival cannot afford to wait any longer.
”Personally, I'm tired of seeing the river in front of my house turn green every year,” he said. “I schedule when friends or family visit around the health of the river. A lot of people don't even want to swim in it.”
Fisher said the cost of maintaining the status quo -- which he said includes disaster relief for farmers and fishing communities as well as lost revenue from tourism and recreation -- will end up being much more than the cost of restoring the river.
It's an argument Lovelace said he presented to various representatives during side meetings while in Washington, D.C.
”Right now, we are doing all of this uncoordinated spending without an end goal, with no idea how to stop it,” Lovelace said. “Let's invest in the river. Let's fix the river now, so we don't have these kinds of crises in the future and ultimately reduce the ongoing spending.”
Fisher said the time for action is now.
"Members of Congress promised to support stakeholders if they came to an agreement, so they did,” Fisher said. “Unfortunately, Congress is still dragging its feet.”

If you missed it:
Miss the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on Klamath Basin water issues? Watch an archived video of the meeting online at http://goo.gl/kYko6.

Kaci Poor can be reached at 441-0504 or kpoor at times-standard.com

Catherine Wong can be reached at 441-0514 or cwong at times-standard.com

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