One More Try: A Renewed Push To Pass Klamath Agreements

PacifiCorp's Copco 1 dam on the lower Klamath River is one of four hydro dams that would be removed to facilitate fish passage under the pending Klamath water deal.Amelia Templeton
PacifiCorp’s Copco 1 dam on the lower Klamath River is one of four hydro dams that would be removed to facilitate fish passage under the pending Klamath water deal.
Amelia Templeton


By: Jefferson Public Radio; Source: OPB


Supporters of a trio of agreements meant to settle the rancorous water disputes in the Klamath Basin are gearing up to take another run at getting Congressional approval for the deal. A Klamath bill by Oregon’s Democratic senators was not included in a massive funding measure passed in the frantic final hours of the last Congress.

Now – amid signs that support for the agreements is growing, the spotlight is turning toward the region’s Republican congressman.

The failure of the Senate bill that would have implemented the Klamath water agreements left a big question mark: what would happen now?

Among stakeholders in the region, the answer was largely that, somehow or another, the deal would move forward.

“Of course we’re going forward,” said Glen Spain with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a commercial fishing group.

“There is no alternative on the table other than going back to the kind of chaos we saw a decade ago,” he said.

Farmers and ranchers in the Klamath have waged a long and bitter battle with fishermen and Indian tribes over the region’s scarce water, with periodic irrigation water shut-offs and fish die-offs raising the stakes.

Over the course of years, the three water agreements were hammered out as the various stakeholders eventually negotiated compromises most felt they could live with. One federal official said what finally brought everyone to the table was the realization that “part of something is better than all of nothing.”
Now – with three interlocking agreements awaiting Congressional approval – stakeholders say it’s crucial to wrap it up.

“This is how we’re going to have stability in resource management in the Klamath Basin as we move forward,” said Greg Addington, who heads the Klamath Water Users Association. It represents farmers and ranchers on the federal Klamath Irrigation Project. Addington says, at this point, making major changes in the deal isn’t feasible.

“As you look at the complexity of these issues and the work that went into crafting these agreements over the last eight or nine years – we’ve been at this for a while – it just makes you more confident that you’ve really crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s and looked at all the potential solutions,” he said.

In recent months, a growing number of previously-skeptical groups have come to back the water deal, including the Klamath Falls City Council, the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce and the Klamath Cattlemen’s Association.

One key player who hasn’t yet signed on is Republican congressman Greg Walden. The Klamath is in Walden’s district and so far he’s had reservations about the agreements, in particular the part that would remove the four hydropower dams on the Klamath River. The dams have blocked fish passage for more than fifty years.

As more Klamath agriculture groups have swung their support to the deal, they’ve urged Walden to get behind it. But if Walden hopes to substantially change the dam removal part of the deal, Don Gentry, who chairs the Klamath Tribal Council, would beg to differ.

“It’s pretty clear that the parties are all on board that that’s a part of the package and without that dam removal component, the agreements will unravel,” he said.

Gentry says removing the dams is crucial to restoring the endangered fish populations the tribes have a treaty right to.

Just as the new session of the US Senate convened this month, Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley re-introduced their Klamath water bill that died last session. Merkley says with the probability of another dry summer approaching, time is running out.

“This has to happen in legislation, to lock in the components as a group,” he said. “And so we could have a major water war or water catastrophe, however you want to put it, for the ranching-farming community if we don’t get this done.”

While there are still parties opposing the agreements – the Klamath County   Commission and the Hoopa Indian tribe among them — the success of this effort would seem to hinge on Greg Walden’s support. Walden’s office declined to comment except to say he’s been meeting with stakeholders and “shares a common goal of finding a viable path forward.”

Klamath Basin Agreements Move Toward Senate Floor

The J.C. Boyle Dam, one of four that the Interior Department has recommended for removal from the Klamath River. It runs through Southern Oregon and Northern California. | credit: Amelia Templeton
The J.C. Boyle Dam, one of four that the Interior Department has recommended for removal from the Klamath River. It runs through Southern Oregon and Northern California. | credit: Amelia Templeton

By: Jes Burns, Earthfix

A long-negotiated series of agreements to manage water in the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon and Northern California received Senate committee passage Thursday.

“This legislation is the result of a historic collaboration of efforts,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden during the committee meeting.

Wyden was one of the four Oregon and California co-sponsors the Senate bill. It gives federal authorization for local efforts to ensure enough water for fish and wildlife, while providing predictable irrigation supplies for farmers and ranchers.

The Klamath agreements were signed by local stakeholders in 2010. They establish a hierarchy of water rights and present the possibility of removing dams owned by PacifiCorp. Congressional approval is needed to enact certain provisions.

The legislation gained broad bi-partisan approval in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski supported the bill after the committee approved an amendment decreasing the role of the federal government in making dam-removal decisions.

“What we do… is ensure that the states of California and Oregon are empowered to decide,” Murkowski said.

Now the legislation faces the possibility of a full Senate vote in the coming weeks.

Agency Reconsidering Water For Klamath Salmon

The federal agency that oversees water in Northern California's Klamath Basin is taking another look at releasing some to prevent the spread of disease among salmon. | credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The federal agency that oversees water in Northern California’s Klamath Basin is taking another look at releasing some to prevent the spread of disease among salmon. | credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


By: Associated Press


The federal agency that oversees water in Northern California’s Klamath Basin is taking another look at releasing some to prevent the spread of disease among salmon returning to spawn in drought conditions.

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman said Friday a decision is likely next week.

The bureau had earlier denied a request from the Hoopa Valley Tribe to release some water from Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River to prevent the spread of a parasite that attacks salmon in stagnant waters, though it would release some once significant numbers of fish started dying.

Tribal scientists said by then it would be too late.

The tribe took their case to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell when she was in Redding, California, this week, and she agreed to review the situation.

Drought Starting To Kill Salmon In Klamath Basin

Low warm water conditions from the drought are starting to kill salmon in the Klamath Basin. | credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr
Low warm water conditions from the drought are starting to kill salmon in the Klamath Basin. | credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr

By: Associated Press


Low warm water conditions from the drought are starting to kill salmon in northern California and southern Oregon’s Klamath Basin — the site of a massive fish kill in 2002.

Sara Borok of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said a survey of the Salmon River on Wednesday found 55 dead adult salmon and more dead juveniles than would be expected this time of year. The reason is low and warm water related to the drought.

Fisheries officials do not want see a repeat of 2002, but there is little to do but pray for rain. Even in the Klamath River, which has dams to store water, there is little available for extra releases.

The Salmon River is a tributary of the Klamath River.

Could An Alliance Of Tribes And Farmers Solve Klamath’s Water Woes?

The Klamath Basin spans northern California and southern Oregon and has seen frequent water crises between the farming, ranching, tribal and environmental communities. | credit: Devan Schwartz
The Klamath Basin spans northern California and southern Oregon and has seen frequent water crises between the farming, ranching, tribal and environmental communities. | credit: Devan Schwartz


By Devan Schwartz, OPB

A second straight year of water shutoffs in the arid Klamath Basin is drying up ranchland and forcing many ranchers to sell their cattle early.

But the water woes have created an unlikely alliance that could lead to a historic solution.

Scott White is the Klamath Basin watermaster. He has the difficult task of telling ranchers to turn off the water they use for cattle and crops.

“It was probably one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do – it was a terrible feeling,” said White.

After decades of court wrangling, state water rights became enforceable in the Klamath Basin last year.

Klamath Basin Water Rights

This is how it plays out. Those with the oldest rights make a call to the state of Oregon for the amount of water they’re legally granted. Until those amounts are met, the watermaster shuts off so-called junior water users.

“It was extremely difficult when you’re driving up and down doing your follow-up and seeing all those fields dry up and folks aren’t out working the fields,” White said.

In drought years like last year and this year, that means a lot of spigots turned off, a lot of fields going dry.

So who are the senior water users? In the Klamath Basin, it’s two main parties: a group of farmers from a federal agricultural project and the Klamath Tribes.

When project farmers make a call, water is diverted from Upper Klamath Lake to fields of onions, potatoes, mint, horseradish and grains.

Tribal water rights are a different story. Their water is kept in tributaries to the lake rather than going to ranches. That extra water is meant to improve stream health for fishing and gathering on former tribal lands.

Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, says the long-term goal is restoring waterways for the return of salmon. Four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River have blocked salmon passage for nearly 100 years.

Don Gentry


“I’m always aware of the fact that we don’t have salmon up here anymore,” Genry said. “A number of our tribal members, elders, people that have gone on and aren’t with us here today, talk about the importance of those fisheries and where they caught the fish at.”

2001: A Bad Year In The Klamath Basin

In the flashpoint summer of 2001, the tribes and farmers were in strong opposition. The government kept water in the river system to support fish while project farmers saw their irrigation water shut off.

The bad blood ran deep — with threats of violence and antagonistic signs lining the highway.

For a long time, the tribes and farmers say they could barely sit down at the same table. Now they’re more united than ever.

Both groups support a bill that would remove the Klamath River dams, stabilize the basin’s water supplies and do wide-scale environmental restoration.

Gentry sees great upsides for the tribes. “We really believe that what we’ve built into this is going to help us immeasurably to restore our fish,” he said.

Greg Addington represents Klamath Project farmers. He says the bill would benefit many Klamath Basin stakeholders who joined an agreement to make it happen.

The Klamath Agreements

“This agreement doesn’t make more water,” Addington said. “What it does is it gives people more certainty. So, we’d be knowing early in the season what our amount of water is so that we would avoid involuntary shortages — and that’s really the big thing.”

Addington says the Klamath Tribes made the first move in their partnership. “They were the ones also that came to the table and said, ‘Look, there’s a better way — and a way to share water.’”

Many ranchers were holdouts. They hoped to be awarded the best water rights. When the tribes and the project farmers prevailed, the incentive to stay outside the tent evaporated.

Support for the legislation now includes a majority of those ranchers. So even in a drought year with widespread water shutoffs in the Klamath Basin, there’s hope for a solution.

An Unprecedented Environmental Solution?

Experts say that solution would have historical and ecological significance. This includes Michael Hughes, who directs the environmental sciences program at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Waterfowl at Klamath Lake. Credit: Flickr


“This has never happened in our country — and to my knowledge it hasn’t happened anywhere in the world,” Hughes said.

He argues that the Klamath Basin’s natural resource challenges are more complex than any in the nation’s history. That includes Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River Delta, the Colorado River, or even the Columbia River here in the Northwest.

“Each of them is overshadowed in some way or another by what’s happening in the Klamath,” he said.

No Easy Path For Solving Klamath’s Water Woes

Solving the Klamath Basin’s water woes would be a major accomplishment. And even with some momentum, it remains a difficult one.

A related bill was introduced in Congress in 2011, but it didn’t go anywhere. An updated, more economical version — still about a half billion dollars — is headed for a likely Senate vote this year. It carries support from all four of Oregon and California’s senators.

But the hurdle of a divided Congress remains a very real one. Some conservation groups say the bill doesn’t go far enough for parched wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin. And some ranchers are still fighting in court for better water rights.

In the meantime, watermaster Scott White will keep telling water users to turn off their spigots.

White says he wishes the situation was different — whether through a political solution or even a few more rainstorms.

“If I could put something on my wish-list, the next 10 years would be extremely wet,” White said. “I can’t remember the last time I got a phone call complaining about too much water.”

Senators Introduce Bill To Authorize Upper Klamath Basin Agreement

Klamath Lake. New legislation in the U.S. Senate would enact a water-sharing agreement and authorize the Interior Department to carry out the terms of a new agreement signed by tribes, ranchers and other stakeholder groups in the Upper Klamath Basin. | credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Klamath Lake. New legislation in the U.S. Senate would enact a water-sharing agreement and authorize the Interior Department to carry out the terms of a new agreement signed by tribes, ranchers and other stakeholder groups in the Upper Klamath Basin. | credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


By Devan Schwartz, OPB

U.S. senators from Oregon and California introduced legislation Wednesday that’s aimed at restoring the Klamath Basin ecosystem and enacting a water-sharing agreement in this arid region that straddles the two states.

The legislation puts into law the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement, an accord that was negotiated and signed last month by ranchers, tribes, and federal and state officials, according to a statement issued by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

“The people of the basin have set aside their differences for the benefit of the region,” Wyden said in the joint statement from the four senators. “Congress should follow their example, pass this legislation and put the Klamath Basin on the road to recovery.”

The Senate bill gives congressional authorization to the U.S. Interior Department to act and achieve the agreement’s benefits. That includes a water-sharing agreement for ranchers and farmers, tribes, native fish runs and bird refuges. It also puts into law a plan to improve and protect streamside areas and provides economic aid for the Klamath Tribes and their members.

In all, the Klamath Basin restoration is expected to cost about $495 million in federal spending. The bill also clears the way for the removal of four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River, with the Secretary of the Interior making the final decision. Experts say that would be the largest dam removal in history.

Last summer, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden brought stakeholders together to rework the restoration agreements. They had been previously drawn up but never passed in Congress.

Several of those stakeholders signed onto a statement praising the new legislation. They included Trout Unlimited, the Karuk Tribe, the Klamath Water Users Association, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, PacifiCorp and the Upper Klamath Water Users Association.

Other conservation groups such as Oregon Wild and WaterWatch of Oregon say the Klamath Agreements don’t provide adequate water for the Klamath Basin’s wildlife refuges, or go far enough to reduce overall water demand.

The legislation will be referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Wyden is a member and the former chairman.

Complexity of water pact frustrates some tribe members


April 8, 2014

LACEY JARRELL H&N Staff Reporter Northwest News Partnership

Members of the Klamath Tribes have expressed frustration with the lack of time to review a proposed water settlement as the deadline for a vote nears.

“My vote is no, and I’m not shy about it,” Klamath Tribes member Rowena Jackson told the Herald and News.

The Klamath Tribes and Upper Basin irrigators have been working for more than eight months to develop a pact balancing the needs of upper Basin water stakeholders and the Tribes.

A 95-page settlement, the Proposed Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement, was released March 5.

Klamath Tribes leaders then held four informational meetings across the state the third weekend in March. Klamath Tribes approval requires the majority of members to vote in favor of the agreement. Mail ballots are due by 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry said Tribal leadership knew the deadline would be difficult to meet.

“We’ve done our best to get information out at additional meetings. I certainly understand the difficulty in getting through the long settlement agreement,” he said.

According to the agreement, 30,000 acre-feet of water must be permanently retired by Upper Basin landowners. The water will provide increased flows in Upper Basin tributaries. If conditions of the water program and an additional riparian management program are met, the Klamath Tribes agree to guarantee water to irrigators at levels based on instream flows specified in the agreement.

“Members have no understanding of what they are asking to give up,” Coleen Crume, a Modoc member of the Klamath Tribes, said.

Ecological considerations

The water retirement and riparian management portions of the agreement are intended to help restore and sustain fisheries in Upper Klamath Lake tributaries. As part of the agreement, the Klamath Tribes will receive a

$40 million economic development package, including $1 million a year for five years from the Department of Interior to address tribal transition needs beginning this year. The development package could help the Tribes acquire the 92,000-acre Mazama Forest and fund a timber mill and related industries.

Kayla Godowa pointed out members have had less than a month to review the settlement and supporting documents. Godowa, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, attended an informational meeting in Eugene, with her mother and other family who are Klamath Tribes members.

Gentry said in addition to the meetings, members of the Tribal Council have responded to questions and concerns by email and on the Tribes’ website and Facebook page. A summary about what a “yes” or a “no” vote means was included in the ballot.

“Information has been available for those who want to contact us,” he said.

Godowa does not believe Tribal leadership has had enough input from Tribal members or that leadership has been transparent throughout the settlement process. She wanted to see more direct input and direct representation of members in the proposed agreement.

“I feel like it’s a weak negotiation,” she said.

Gentry explained the process was expedited because the proposed agreement builds on conditions agreed upon in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which was settled in 2010.

Specifically, he said, the current proposed agreement’s framework was approved by a Tribal member vote as the Off-Project Water Settlement, also known as Section 16 in the KBRA agreement.

“Though the name has changed, that’s basically what it is,” he said.

Gentry said Tribal members voted to approve the KBRA in 2010 and then voted in favor of proposed amendments to the agreement in 2012. Despite support for the KBRA, many stakeholder groups were not included in the settlement. Gentry said to move forward the settlement needed to be supported by the local agriculture community, who are partners in the new proposed agreement.

“This basically brings to the table many who were most actively opposed to the initial KBRA agreement,” Gentry said.

Crume, who attended a Tribal meeting in Klamath Falls, said the agreement doesn’t address the value water has to the Tribes.

“Water is the most precious commodity on Earth. Why would we give up water for a paltry few trees?” she said.

Gentry said if managed sustainably, lodgepole pine harvests from the Mazama Forest could bring as much as $1.5 million per year to the Klamath Tribes. Actively managed lodgepole pine stands are more likely to resist disease and infestations, he added.

Jackson said the $40 million economic package is a short-term solution to supporting Klamath Tribes programs.

“It’s not a fair deal — $40 million isn’t going to last,” Jackson said.

According to Gentry, the economic package isn’t intended to support existing programs. He called the economic package an “infusion of capital” that would allow the Tribes to move forward with economic development, including developing a mill in the Mazama Forest. The mill could create revenue for years by milling, chipping and producing wood pellets, he said.

© 2014 Wallowa County Chieftain. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Endangered Species Act Turns 40: A Look At 3 Interesting Debates

Amelia Templeton, Earth Fix

It’s the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Much of our day to day reporting on endangered species focuses on the political controversies that arise from conservation strategies: wolf predation of livestock, water shutoffs in the Klamath Basin, mill closures after the Northwest Forest Plan.

We also do fair amount of reporting on the strange things people do to try to save individual species in peril: putting fish in trucks, removing a dam, relocating deer, and shooting one kind of owl to save another.

But what interests me the most are the big picture questions. Here are three questions conservation scientists are debating, inspired in part by this excellent conservation literature review.

1) Is It Time To Triage?

Governments and conservation groups have a limited amount of money to spend trying to recover endangered species. Those dollars are typically allocated to species judged to be the most at threat, the most ecologically unique and significant and the most charismatic. Scientists say tigers, pandas and spotted owls all benefit from a disproportionate share of conservation funding.

Researchers with the University of Queensland in Australia and the Department of Conservation in New Zealand have sparked a vigorous debate over the need to include two more criteria: the cost of management and the likelihood that an attempt to save a species will succeed.

The question of whether to stop trying to save some charismatic, highly imperiled species so funding can go to more help conserve more viable populations seems particularly relevant in the Northwest, where scientists are debating a potentially costly and risky campaign to save the spotted owl by shooting barred owls.

It’s also an idea that appears to have influenced local groups like the Wild Salmon Center, which has proposed protecting the Northwest’s strongest salmon runs and healthiest rivers as the most effective approach to salmon recovery.

2) Is There A Universal Minimum Viable Population?

Small populations are particularly vulnerable to extinction due to random catastrophe, variation in birth and death rates, and other factors. The idea of a minimum viable population was first introduced by biologist Mark Shaffer in a paper in 1981.

Getting an accurate population count of an endangered species is surprisingly difficult, and some scientists have argued for universal benchmarks for all species: 50 individuals for short-term survival, 500 individuals for the genetic health of a species, and 5,000 individuals for long-term viability.

However, many researchers have rejected the idea and argue that a species’ life history, size, environment and rate of decline all affect what constitute a viable population size.

In a recent study, authors Curtis Flathers et al, write that while marbled murrelets in the Northwest number in the tens of thousands, the species is still endangered by loss of nesting habitat and depletion of its food sources.

They offer the passenger pigeon as an example of a species that seemed abundant but ended up extinct.

“The extinction of the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), perhaps the most abundant land bird in North America during the 1800’s (numbering 3–5 billion individuals [69]), stands as a sobering reminder that population size alone is noguarantee against extinction.”

3) Should We Be Assisting Migration?

The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute has reported that Humboldt squid from the tropics have moved into Oregon waters, birds are migrating earlier and moving further north, and small mammals in Eastern Oregon are contracting their high-elevation ranges.

Forest ecologists are predicting that climate change could threaten tree species like coastal yellow cedar and alpine whitebark pine.

Some scientists argue that many species will not be able to move or evolve quickly enough to survive climate change, and are calling for human intervention to assist migration of threatened species through the creation of seed banks and other strategies.

Where do you stand on these debates? Let us know the endangered species stories you think we should be covering.

Tribes And Ranchers Strike Klamath Water Deal

Wildlife refuge in the Lower Klamath basin
Wildlife refuge in the Lower Klamath basin

Source: Earthfix

Tribes and ranchers say they have reached a major breakthrough in negotiations over sharing water in Oregon’s arid Klamath Basin.

They have the outline of a deal that could end 38 years of lawsuits and pave the way for removing four dams.

The conflict came to a head this summer when the Klamath Tribes used their senior rights to protect fish by shutting off the water to nearby ranches.

Those shutoffs sparked new negotiations. Don Gentry, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes, says the two sides have reached an agreement in principle.

“This is really definitely a landmark step,”Gentry said. “This is really positive but we have a lot of work to do as we move forward to negotiating a final agreement.”

Under the draft agreement, ranchers would cut their water use by 30,000 acre feet. And help restore streambanks to reduce nutrient pollution.

In exchange the tribes would limit their power to call on junior water users to turn off their irrigation. And all sides agree they won’t oppose a plan to remove four dams on the Klamath River. They hope to finalize the deal by January.