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Shutdown derails Klamath Basin Task Force

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

The partial federal government shutdown has derailed the work of the Klamath Basin Task Force, which relied on information from the U.S. Department of the Interior and other agencies to complete its task. The panel was convened after water shutoffs deprived thousands of acres of Upper Basin farmland of irrigation water this summer.

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — The partial government shutdown has derailed the work of a committee that was supposed to have come to a final Klamath Basin water agreement this week.

The Klamath Basin Task Force set up by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Gov. John Kitzhaber canceled a meeting that was set for Oct. 10 to resolve lingering water and power issues that had slowed the group’s negotiations.

While many of its more than two dozen members are from state or local agencies, the panel relies on information from the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies, whose workers have been furloughed, said Tom Towslee, Wyden’s state communications director.

“I think those people … are being impacted in the same way that millions of others are being impacted by this senseless shutdown of the government,” Towslee said.

The work stoppage caused by the fiscal impasse in Washington, D.C., marks another setback for the panel that was hastily assembled this summer after water rights calls by the Klamath Tribes and the federal government forced a shutoff of irrigation water to tens of thousands of acres of farmland in the Upper Basin.

The task force was convened to address water scarcity in the Upper Basin, cutting the cost of irrigation electricity and cutting the cost of proposed restoration projects and the removal of four dams from the Klamath River.

The group was supposed to unveil final recommendations by early September, but unresolved issues over water and power bogged down talks. Non-federal group members have still been meeting in subcommittees, said Becky Hyde, an Upper Basin rancher.

“The thing that we’re concerned about as irrigators above the lake is we can’t live through another year like this one,” Hyde said. “The irrigation season is going to be on us before we know it again, so a settlement is imperative.”

Towslee said that much of the committee’s work has been accomplished.

“They just needed to have one final meeting to get their agreement in principle and make recommendations,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that this shutdown has prevented those final touches on an agreement to resolve what is clearly a major water allocation and economic issue in the Klamath Basin.”



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