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The Klamath Basin Agreements: Who's Not at the Table?

February 18, 2010

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon rolls out the red carpet today for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as part of the signing ceremony for the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). However, not everyone with a stake in salmon recovery is celebrating. During the five years of negotiations, a number of groups left the table, saying the agreements do not guarantee that the four dams on the Klamath River will be removed, or that water quality and water quantity fights will be resolved.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe of California says the water allocation plans put salmon and tribal water rights behind those of irrigators. No matter who signs the agreements this week, hard feelings remain, according to Allie Hostler with the tribe's Fisheries Department.

"It has ripped communities apart. There are irrigators who are at odds with each other; there are tribes that are at odds with each other; there are conservation and environmental groups that are at odds with each other - all as a result of these negotiations. The only difference is the opposition has been sort-of shut out."

By signing the agreement, Hostler says, the tribe would have given up its legal right to challenge the situation in the future. That, and concerns about the lack of specific goals for water quality and fish restoration, prompted the Hoopa Valley Tribe to disapprove the deal, she explains. Three other tribes are expected to sign, however.

The conservation group Oregon Wild is unhappy with the agreements, too. Spokesman Sean Stevens says irrigators are getting a better deal than other types of water users - including the endangered fish.

"They really got their checklist. And the folks in the room who were worried about wildlife, salmon and river flows - they did not get their checklist, but they're crossing their fingers, hoping that what they got is going to be enough. Oregon Wild doesn't believe that's a good enough deal for such an important watershed."

The group also objects to allowing farming to continue on national wildlife refuge land for another 50 years, which is part of the deal. And with multiple sources of funding yet to be approved, Stevens says Oregon Wild is skeptical dam removal will happen.

About 30 groups and government agencies have said the Klamath agreements are not perfect, but offer compromises they can live with.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR