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.