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Barely a Trickle of Hope for Klamath Basin Water Agreement

Klamath Basin water users are concerned that the region's overarching water-rights agreement will die in Congress this month. (
Klamath Basin water users are concerned that the region's overarching water-rights agreement will die in Congress this month. (
December 11, 2015

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - With one week to go before Congress is scheduled to wrap up its session for the year, it's looking unlikely that the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement will be approved.

The last-minute draft bill from Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., doesn't align with the Senate bill to make the water-rights agreement official.

Walden's bill doesn't include removal of four Klamath River dams, which was key to the original agreement, and it adds transfers of federal land to counties that weren't part of the agreement.

Craig Tucker, natural resources policy advocate with the Karuk Tribe, predicts those changes will doom it.

"The draft bill that's been presented, I don't think it's possible for that to pass through Congress," says Tucker. "So I think, come January, the possibility for settlement will be over. And we'll be back to the same old litigating, going through the FERC process and finding different ways to address our needs."

The two Oregon senators' reaction to the House bill is also that it falls short of the original agreement, which took 10 years to negotiate. And Tucker points out that Congress has left it sitting for five years, leaving tribes, farmers and ranchers and local communities frustrated by the standstill.

Upper Klamath Basin rancher Larry Nicholson isn't the first person to call the original agreement "unprecedented," and he believes adding the land giveaways - 100,000 acres each to Klamath and Siskiyou counties, for logging - will trip up the deal.

Nicholson says all parties to the agreement already are living by it, and he thinks Congress should, too.

"This does work. And that's the travesty of this, is that we've shown that we can come up with a solution to this very complex problem," says Nicholson. "And the last two years, we've been operating under these agreements, everyone has gotten some water. It's not perfect, but it certainly is better than the alternative."

Nicholson says he'll remain hopeful at least through Dec. 18, when Congress is set to break for the holidays.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR