County supervisors have said that a Klamath Basin water use agreement stemming from a key court ruling opens new potential for federal legislation on dam removal.
Klamath Basin water issues were discussed at the April 8 Board of Supervisors meeting. Up for consideration was the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.
It permanently increases flows into Klamath Lake, the Klamath River’s headwaters, by 30,000 acre feet. Upper basin farmers and ranchers will decrease water use but the agreement sets an 18,000-acre cap on the amount of land left without irrigation.
The upper basin landowners were hold-outs on the negotiations that led to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement and Klamath Basin Restoration agreements. Their involvement in the new pact was leveraged by last year’s high court ruling on tribal water rights.
“These landowners who entered into this agreement with the Klamath tribes fought the Klamath tribes for 40 years over the senior water rights adjudication, thinking all along that they would win,” said Craig Tucker, the Klamath coordinator for the Karuk tribe. “Well, turns out that the Klamath tribes have senior water rights – they figured that out last year when they used their water rights and about 100,000 head of cattle went thirsty.”
That finally brought the upper basin irrigators to the negotiating table, Tucker continued.
Last summer, Oregon lawmakers convened the Klamath Basin Task Force, consisting of Klamath tribes, upper basin landowners and representatives of the governments of Oregon and the United States.
Troy Fletcher of the Yurok tribe said the resulting upper basin agreement is “a great step.” It awaits tribal approvals and Fletcher said he’ll recommend it to the Yurok tribe.
The approval of the agreement will mark a turning point in the Klamath dam removal effort. Federal legislation is needed to implement all the agreements and Tucker said the upper basin pact will make it likely.
He said the agreement’s approval would be commemorated with a signing event later this month, with tribes, upper basin landowners and state and federal lawmakers attending.
“It would look a lot like a kick-off event for a legislative effort to implement these agreements,” Tucker continued. “The idea is that there would be one piece of federal legislation that would be the vehicle for implementing all three of the Klamath agreements.”
He said that if the new agreement is approved, federal legislation is anticipated for later this year.
Supervisor Ryan Sundberg is the county’s representative on the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council. Describing a before-and-after scenario, he related what he’d heard on a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. with Supervisor Mark Lovelace and former Supervisor Jill Duffy.
“We had some representatives tell us, ‘why are you taking out perfectly good infrastructure,’” Sundberg said. “But this has changed the dialogue to, ‘if this doesn’t happen there’s going to be a lot of cows that don’t have water and farmers who can’t farm.’”
Doubt about the viability of federal legislation has substantially decreased. “It’s as far along as it’s ever been in getting legislation introduced and to be successful – it’s pretty exciting,” Sundberg said.
Supervisors unanimously voted to declare that the upper basin pact is consistent with the other two Klamath agreements.