GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A task force working on an agreement for sharing scarce water in the Klamath Basin has made progress on securing low-cost power for irrigators but will need more time to complete its work, officials said Wednesday.
The thorniest issue — finding ways to ensure cattle ranchers have irrigation water while the viability of fish sacred to the Klamath Tribes is protected — is proving the toughest to resolve.
The task force’s last meeting had been scheduled for Thursday in Klamath Falls, but it will need a few more weeks to finish.
“All the parties involved in the water negotiations are working hard to get to agreement,” said Richard Whitman, the governor’s natural resources adviser, who is overseeing the task force’s work.
The task force was created by the governor and members of Congress after drought and newly recognized water rights for the tribes forced irrigation shutoffs to ranchers on the former reservation.
Its report will serve as a supplement to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which is a companion deal to an agreement to help salmon by removing four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. The restoration agreement has been bogged down in Congress, where it is adamantly opposed by House Republicans.
A draft report being considered Thursday includes a provision to extend low-cost power to irrigators in the upper basin at similar rates afforded irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project, a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border.
It also will include a section on reducing the overall cost. Whitman said a previous $550 million estimate of costs to the federal treasury for 10 years has been cut by 38 percent to $209 million.
Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, agreed that progress was being made on the tough issue of ensuring some water for ranchers now cut off by drought and the tribes’ water rights.
“But we know we’ve got more work to do,” Gentry said.
Once the task force produces a set of recommendations, it would be open to revision based on public comments.