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Klamath agreement renewed for two more years

Published on January 3, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on January 3, 2013 12:10PM

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- A companion agreement to a historic deal to remove four dams from the Klamath River has been renewed, giving supporters another two years to try to get Congress to pay for the work, officials said Monday.

Supporters of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement announced that all 42 signatories -- including Indian tribes, local governments, irrigation districts, salmon fishermen and conservation groups -- agreed to the renewal.

The agreement lays out how water will be shared between farms and fish during drought years, and calls on Congress to provide $800 million for environmental restoration.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said some in the basin oppose the measure -- notably two newly elected members of the Klamath County Board of Commissioners -- but the people who depend most on the water are solidly behind it.

"The dam removal piece of it gets the headlines, but the reality is that for most of our guys looking at this thing, it is about water in the ditch," Addington said. "They are looking at this and saying this is the best chance of making sure that continues."

Straddling the Oregon-California border, the Klamath Basin regularly has trouble meeting the water demands of farms on the federal irrigation project at the top of the basin, endangered sucker fish in the irrigation system's main reservoir, and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

The federal government shut off water to most of the farms in 2001 to protect the salmon. After a summer of bitter protests and political battles, the Bush administration restored irrigation in 2002, only to see tens of thousands of adult salmon die of gill rot diseases that spread rapidly between fish crowded into low pools of warm water.

The two events led many farmers, tribes, conservation groups and salmon fishermen to overcome their longstanding differences and agree to a water-sharing plan that is linked to removing four small hydroelectric dams owned by PacifiCorp on the Klamath River to help salmon. But Republican opposition in the House has blocked enabling legislation in Congress

The renewal also extends an agreement settling a potential battle between the Klamath tribes and irrigators over senior water rights, which the tribes appear to be on the verge of having affirmed by a long and complex adjudication process.

The restoration agreement calls for the tribes to receive timberland lost when their reservation was dissolved in the 1950s, and to limit asserting their water rights. Irrigators would not contest tribal water rights.

Malin farmer Rob Unruh, vice president of the water users group, said in a statement that while demands by the Endangered Species Act that fish get water have been in the spotlight, the water rights agreement is a key achievement for farmers, eliminating a huge future conflict, and helping assure future irrigation.

The dams produce enough power for 70,000 people. Removal is not scheduled to start before 2020 and depends on funding, authorization from Congress, and a federal determination that it will actually help salmon and is in the public interest.


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