[env-trinity] Times Standard: Tribes eye leaving Klamath Basin deals
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Thu Sep 17 19:40:59 PDT 2015
Tribes eye leaving Klamath Basin deals
By Will Houston, Eureka Times-Standardend small ArticleByline1.pboPOSTED: 09/15/15, 10:58 PM PDT | UPDATED: 1 DAY AGO2 COMMENTSFive years of negotiations that went into the Klamath Basin agreements between tribes, irrigators, farmers and governments are starting to unravel as the bill that encapsulates the accord remains stalled in Congress.The Yurok Tribe announced its notice to withdraw from the agreement on Tuesday, with the Karuk Tribe set to withdraw at the end of the year if Congress does not act, according to Karuk Tribe Klamath Coordinator Craig Tucker.“We are continuing to have conversations with congressional offices,” he said, stating that he had traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to address these issues. “I do think it’s possible that we could pull this thing off in the end. But time is growing very short.”
In its notice, the Yurok Tribe states that since the first draft of the agreement was approved in 2010, many of the agreed upon conditions have been altered and had, in some instances, caused the tribe to consider withdrawing from the agreements.“Unfortunately, Congress has failed to pass legislation authorizing the agreements, and over time the bargained for benefits of the agreements have become unachievable,” the notice states. “The tribe is left with no choice other than to withdraw from the Klamath Agreements.”
Tucker said that the Klamath Tribes of Oregon — the tribal government made up of the Klamath and Modoc tribes and Yahooskin Band of Snake Indians — also plan to withdraw from the agreements if no action is taken. Calls to the Klamath Tribes of Oregon for comment were not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.The status of the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Band of Snake Indians had been terminated by Congress in 1954, and their 1,400 square mile reservation sold off, becoming ranches, rural subdivisions, private timberlands, and parts of two national forests. Since tribal status was restored in 1986, the tribes have been working to regain some of the reservation as an economic base.
The Klamath Basin agreements contain three major compromises that were made as recently as April 2014. Under the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River would be removed to help salmon, promote water quality restoration and to provide farmers more concrete assurances on irrigation expectations. Both agreements require approval by Congress, but were stalled by opposition among House Republicans.Last year, a third agreement known as the Upper Klamath Basin Agreement was made between Klamath Basin irrigators and the tribes. Under that agreement, ranchers and farmers on the upper basin would reduce water withdrawals to increase flows into Upper Klamath Lake by 30,000 acre feet, benefiting both endangered sucker fish, salmon and downstream tribes.
The agreement was signed on April 18, after 30 years of a process known as adjudication, to settle water rights in the Sycan, Wood and Williamson rivers, which flow through the former reservation lands of the Klamath Tribes into Upper Klamath Lake. The process ended with the tribes gaining senior water rights. But this third agreement has also been stalled in a House committee and is meeting the same opposition among House Republicans as the other two agreements, Tucker said.“We hope to solve this problem through this negotiated agreement,” he said. “It’s like Congress would prefer to see us fight with one another instead of solve a problem. For me it’s been really depressing. I felt like we did the right thing.”
Should Congress fail to act on the three bills, Tucker said, many farmers on the basin would be left “high and dry” as the Klamath Tribes of Oregon would be prone to exercise their senior water rights, putting many farmers with junior rights out of business.In California, Tucker said that the long-standing battles between tribes, governments, irrigators and farmers over water rights would likely resume with the Klamath River fish paying the price. The Karuk Tribe would also have to attempt to convince the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to not renew the dam licenses for the four Klamath River dams that would have been removed if the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement was approved.
“FERC has never ordered a dam removal successfully,” Tucker said. “Settlement agreements are how dam removals happen. If this agreement flops, we’re letting a huge opportunity slip through our fingers.”Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
ABOUT THE AUTHORReach the author at whouston at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Will on Twitter: @Will_S_Houston.
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