Klamath pact faces local foes

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Group says their water rights will be negotiated away under current plan

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

A new opposition group has formed to frustrate local efforts to implement the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

The group, Citizens Protecting Rural Oregon, last week petitioned courts not to validate three local water districts' legal authority to contract with the federal government to carry out aspects of the plan.

Group members argue the legal standing would give the districts the ability to negotiate away their water rights without any input.

"We have a water right, it's a constitutional right, and probably in the next year it will be adjudicated," CPRO spokesman Al King said. "What they did is they're telling the court, 'Give us the authority to negotiate away, to contract away (our) individual right.' They asked the court to give them authority to do that."

The filings involve the Klamath, Shasta View and Malin irrigation districts in Oregon. A similar challenge is under way in California's Tulelake Irrigation District, and a settlement conference has been set up there, King said.

District managers say their validation petitions are largely routine, having already been granted to nine other districts that are part of the KBRA and the dam-removal project on the Klamath River. They say all the CPRO is doing is costing ratepayers' money in the form of legal expenses.

"This filing ... was required of our districts as outlined within the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement," said Luke Robison, who manages both the Shasta View and Malin districts. "We had a legal requirement to file this within x amount of days after signing."

The CPRO's filings are the latest sign of lingering local resentment a year after the KBRA and the plan to uproot four PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River were unveiled.

The skirmish comes as the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council is set to meet Feb. 24 in Klamath Falls, Ore., to further carry out the agreement that aims to supply sufficient water for fish, farms and tribes in the basin.

In its legal challenge, the CPRO argues it's premature for the water districts to be given standing to negotiate because Congress has yet to ratify the agreement. Managers say the districts simply want legal confirmation that they're operating within their authority.

"Certainly members in our district vote and elect board members to represent them and make decisions," said Mark Stuntebeck, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District. "That's the way irrigation districts are set up. They have a board of directors elected to make decisions for them. That's what our board is doing."

King said he expects the CPRO's filings to result in a settlement conference with the districts and, if necessary, a full hearing after which a judge will make a ruling.

KBRA meeting

What: Klamath Basin Coordinating Council meeting

When: 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 24

Where: Running Y Conference Center, 5500 Running Y Road, Klamath Falls, Ore.

Agenda online: www.edsheets.com

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