Klamath River Basin Pact Ends Decades of Water Wars

Klamath River
Klamath River, flows through southern Oregon and Northern California for over 263 miles before emptying into the Pacific Ocean in southern Del Norte County, California. (Photo by kmanohar)


KLAMATH FALLS, Oregon, April 18, 2014 (ENS) – An agreement that settles decades of conflict over water in the Upper Klamath River Basin was signed today by officials from the federal government, the states of Oregon and California, tribal authorities and water users.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Commerce Undersecretary Kathryn Sullivan, California Resources Secretary John Laird, Klamath Tribal Chair Don Gentry, and members of the Klamath Basin Task Force gathered today along the banks of Spring Creek at Collier Memorial State Park for the official signing of the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.

After the signing ceremony, the Klamath Tribes hosted a banquet for all parties and community members to celebrate the milestone.

Klamath River
The Klamath River flows through southern Oregon and Northern California for over 263 miles before emptying into the Pacific Ocean in southern Del Norte County, California. (Photo by kmanohar)

The agreement is the result of more than nine months of good-faith efforts from members of the Klamath Tribes, who are the senior water rights holders, and other Upper Basin water users to develop solutions to water issues affecting the region.

A draft agreement was released in December for public review. The final agreement, completed in March, details water management and restoration measures planned for the Upper Klamath Basin and reflects the commitment and hard work of people throughout the region. It was approved by the Klamath Tribes in a referendum completed earlier this month.

“With patience and dedication, the Klamath Tribes and the Upper Basin water users have created something significant and lasting for the region and for the state,” said Governor Kitzhaber today.

“This agreement is the last, missing piece in the puzzle that knits together California, Oregon, lower basin tribes, upper basin tribes, and irrigators. It reflects a spirit of sharing in times of shortage, and pulling together to rebuild the vitality of this river and all who depend upon it,” said the governor. “We now have the foundation for rebuilding prosperity throughout the basin.”

The Klamath Tribal Council and the Klamath Tribes’ Negotiation Team said April 7, “The Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement provides a strong outcome for the Klamath Tribes in the form of permanently increased in-stream flows, permanently protected riparian corridors, $40 million for economic development, and $5 million for assisting with the transition period.”

“This agreement is the key to advancing the legislation necessary to implement the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, both of which were overwhelmingly approved by the Tribal membership.  All three agreements combined provide actions important to restoring healthy aquatic ecosystems and the Treaty resources they provide, including salmon and steelhead,” the tribal officials said.

The agreement will:
•    Increase stream flows into Upper Klamath Lake by at least 30,000 acre feet per year through voluntary water use reduction measures
•    Provide stability for irrigated agriculture in the Upper Klamath Basin
•    Improve and protect riparian habitat
•    Create economic opportunities for the Klamath Tribes and their members and increased opportunities for the exercise of tribal cultural rights

“We’re here today because many people had the courage and the vision to set aside differences and work together to change the status quo,” said Secretary Jewell. “With the three Klamath agreements in place, we have the tools needed to restore the basin, advance the recovery of its fisheries, uphold trust responsibilities to the tribes, and sustain our ranching heritage from the headwaters of the Klamath to the ocean.”

At the signing ceremony, front row, from left: Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, Apr. 18, 2014 (Photo courtesy Office of Senator Wyden)

The agreement will not become permanent until long-term funding is provided to fully implement the Economic Development Program, Water Use Agreements and the Riparian Management Agreements.

Funding for restoration projects in the agreement signed today will come through the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, signed in 2010. The overall cost of the Upper Basin settlement agreement and the Klamath Agreements of 2010 is $545 million, down from the original cost of the Klamath agreements, which was estimated at $1 billion.

Short-term funding is being provided by a consortium of federal and state agencies. But long-term funding, and other elements of the agreement, will require federal legislation.

“This historic agreement saves water, protects habitat, and provides economic certainty for the basin,” said Senator Wyden. “This could only have happened through the hard work and dedication of the task force I created along with Senator Merkley, Congressman Walden, and Governor Kitzhaber. Now it is time for Congress to get to work and build on what has already been done.”

“Today’s historic signing ceremony means that we can put the water wars of the past decades behind us and focus on supporting the diverse and vibrant rural economy here in the Klamath Basin,” said Senator Merkley. “Everyone here today has proven that with hard work and goodwill, even the most controversial and longstanding challenges can be overcome.”

“The agreement we celebrate today started with a powerful idea – the notion that we should all have a voice in deciding how this river would serve us, across all of our diverse interests, which, in the past, have collided in conflict,” said Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Undersecretary of the Department of Commerce.

Chairman of the Klamath Tribes Don Gentry said, “The recent approval of Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement by our members was a critical and positive step in achieving the long-established goals of the Klamath Tribes.”

This agreement, in addition to the KBRA [Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement] and KHSA [Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement] previously approved by our people, will honor our time immemorial water rights and provide for the recovery and sustainability of our tribal fisheries, plants, and other aquatic resources needed for the exercise of our Treaty Rights.”

Roger Nicholson, an Upper Basin rancher, said, “Settlement will allow the social and economic healing of the agricultural and tribal community, and once again establish a united community.”

Garrett Roseberry, president of the Sprague River Water Resources Group, said, “After decades of legal battles, the Klamath Tribes and the Upper Basin irrigation committees – with the support of Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Representative Greg Walden, and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber – have crafted an agreement that will create economic security and resource stability for the Klamath tribes and the Upper Basin community.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


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