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Klamath Basin Water Deal Ticks Toward December Deadline

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Monday, November 9, 2015   

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - Time is running out for Congress to pass the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. But at the White House Tribal Nations Conference late last week, there were glimmers of hope that it could still be possible.

President Obama told the group he's committed to working with tribal nations to protect natural resources and honor their heritage.

Kathy Hill – a member of the Klamath Tribal Council who was on the negotiating team for the agreement – was there, and said she heard mixed views about the future of the water agreement.

"[U.S. Interior Secretary] Sally Jewell was optimistic," said Hill. "But then another person, not with the administration, told me, 'You know, nothing's going to get through this House this year.' And that's the mood, I think maybe, in Washington, D.C."

The agreement governs water use in southern Oregon and northern California. It was hammered out by more than 40 parties, but expires at the end of this year without congressional approval. The Senate bill (SB 133) is stalled until a companion House bill is introduced. For that, all eyes are on Congressman Greg Walden, who has said it's a priority.

Parts of the agreement affect more than Oregon and California. It calls for removal of four older dams in the region. However, if the agreement expires, PacifiCorp could upgrade and re-license the dams instead, passing the costs on to ratepayers in a half-dozen states.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said for irrigators, dam removal was a critical compromise.

"We shook hands on that deal and we're still committed to that outcome, if the agreement goes forward," Addington said. "We don't want to go back and do this all over again; we don't even know if we can do it all over again. We've really tried to convey that sense of urgency to Congress. Hopefully, they hear us."

But Hill wonders if lawmakers unfamiliar with Oregon's "water wars" understand the importance of the agreement.

"With climate change and everything that's going on, this is something positive, that people felt like they were doing for the future of their communities," she said. "So, it concerns me that there's so much misunderstanding that I think could really be what causes some problems."

She hopes members of Congress will see it the agreement as a successful local model for negotiations on tough topics, and that they'll vote for it – if they get the chance.


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