[env-trinity] Klamath H&N: Water coalition aims to coordinate conservation efforts

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Nov 20 11:20:28 PST 2019


Water coalition aims to coordinate conservation efforts
   - By HOLLY DILLEMUTH H&N Staff Reporter
   - Nov 19, 2019
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Herald and News




The Coalition of the Willing, a group of about 50 to 60 individuals who represent a wide range of interests related to water in Siskiyou, Modoc, and Klamath counties, has hired a facilitator whose salary is being financed in part by county funds, with pledges made by state and federal entities.

The water coalition has been meeting since 2018 and started under the facilitation of Alan Mikkelsen, senior adviser to Secretary of the Interior on water and western resources.

Mikkelsen told the Herald and News in an interview Thursday that the coalition met that week in Medford, both separately from him and other aides and then collectively over the course of two days. The group has been meeting in this way since May.

“This is being driven by the stakeholders,” Mikkelsen said.

“We’re just responding to their requests,” he added.

Dan Keppen and Craig Tucker informally chair the stakeholders coalition, which includes individuals from numerous organizations: counties, water user organizations above Upper Klamath Lake, and within the Klamath Project; irrgigators from the Rogue Valley, Klamath, Yurok, and Hoopa Valley tribes; waterfowl and fisheries conservation groups, as well as representatives from Oregon and California Farm Bureaus, and Klamath County Chamber of Commerce and other business representatives from the Basin.

Mediator hired

The group this year hired Rich Wilson, a professional mediator from the Sacramento area, who has also worked with Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on groundwater issues, according to Keppen.

Keppen is co-chairing the group as a resident of the Klamath Basin with extensive water policy experience.

The stakeholders group is gathering funding to cover Wilson’s facilitator salary through March, at which time Keppen anticipates finalizing a report laying out the progress and next steps. Some of those funds are coming from nonprofit and non-governmental organizations. A $15,000 check was delivered to stakeholders by Klamath County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot on Wednesday, funds that will help pay for Wilson’s services.

Modoc County has pledged to contribute $2,500 and Siskiyou County has pledged to contribute $5,000 to the group. Mikkelsen said Department of Interior will contribute up to and including $10,000 and the state of Oregon will also pay up to and including $10,000.

Keppen would not say how much Wilson’s salary is, but that it would fund his services through March.

A report or memorandum of understanding between individuals meeting together is expected to be finished by that time.

Next steps

“Once we have a product of some sort that lays out what we’re doing … then we’ll have something in hand that perhaps the group as a whole can go to and look to for additional funding to advance some of this,” Keppen said. “We just want to build trust with folks up and down the (Klamath) River.”

“We’re not developing any long-term settlement or anything, it’s really just trying to see where we’ve got agreement and understanding people better,” Keppen added.

“We’re not going to be done by any means in March, but I think really we wanted to get a short-term effort going to get some trust built up.”

Such a report could contain a list of projects and other recommendations to move toward a “Basin-wide management of fisheries, waterfowl, and water management actions,” Keppen said.

“It’ll be a report that lays out, here’s what this group feels like are important projects that could be done throughout the watershed,” Keppen said. “Here’s how we think these projects should be evaluated.”

Coordinated efforts

Keppen said there’s also an emphasis to make sure all efforts are coordinated.

“For the last couple decades, we’ve had kind of random acts of conservation,” Keppen said. “Lots of things being done, they’re all probably good. But it’s hard to see how the fish are benefiting.”

Keppen said last Wednesday’s stakeholder coalition identified potential conservation projects in each sub-basin that could be effective. The stakeholder subgroup met with federal and state aides on Thursday to add another layer to that discussion, with ways that government agencies could add to project ideas to improve water quality and fisheries health.

“People are seeing some pretty good momentum here,” Keppen said. “I’m hoping that a bunch of these things sort of line up into some sort of a cohesive package that gets some good things done in a way that we know is helping the environment.

“The sooner the fish numbers come up, the better all of us are going to be,” he added. “For the irrigators, hopefully it’s going to be not as strict regulation further on down the road. For the tribes, it’s a big part of their culture and their food supply.”

“I think there’s a sense of optimism,” Keppen added. “It was to me, pretty remarkable that we’re having pretty constructive discussions at a time when I think there’s seven ongoing acts of litigation in the Basin.”

Dams not included

Keppen emphasized that the meetings do not include removal of four dams along the Klamath River, which he sees as a potential misconception about the group.

The meetings are closed to the public and media while the group continues to build trust among parties and discuss topics that might otherwise be limited due to ongoing litigation.

“This is still pretty grassroots,” he said. “We’re brainstorming, and the whole process is intending to complement what Alan is doing. We just have a little bit more openness and flexibility to talk about things because they are bound by all these litigations … the litigations prevents them from doing that.

“At some point, we’re probably going to move to some sort of a governance structure,” Keppen added.

Keppen also addressed the potential for public perception that this effort resembles a second Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

“We are nowhere near anything like the KBRA,” Keppen said. “That took years and years of negotiations. If something like that were to happen, this time around, it wouldn’t have anything to do with dam removal.”

Addressing challenges

The coalition aims to address challenges to fisheries, water supply, and waterfowl and forest health.

“Right now, we’re just brainstorming and here’s kind of our wish list of things that we think could have multiple benefits and could work toward building trust that could lead to some sort of a long-term solution down the road, which we’re a long ways away from right now,” Keppen said.

State and federal officials no longer attend the stakeholders-only group gathering.

“We don’t participate in those, since mid-Summer, I think,” Mikkelsen said.

The second day, that group met with Mikkelsen, who said Thursday he heard a presentation on water quality.

“At times that they think it’s appropriate to engage the state and federal parties, we’ll be there,” Mikkelsen said.

Mikkelsen said it was ultimately determined that the best way to have stakeholder buy-in on the process was to have stakeholders control the process.

“The solutions have to come from the stakeholders here in the Basin,” Mikkelsen said. “All of the stakeholders have been invited to participate in those meetings. We stand ready to do what we can to assist the process, but in the mean time ... we don’t feel there’s anything we can really do to drive that process. So that’s why we are asking the stakeholder’s group to continue to focus on Basin-wide solutions, which is what they’re doing.”

The full coalition will reconvene in February or March 2020.

Keppen said at that time, the coalition plans to have compiled a report that is slated to help them collectively move forward.
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