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More great news from the Klamath!

Posted by Hannah Meganck on November 21, 2014

Klamath legislation approved by Senate Committee

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Sunset on the Klamath River. Photo credit: Linda Tanner*

​We are delighted to report that last Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee approved SB 2379, the Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2014. This bill authorizes and helps fund implementation of the three agreements now in place to sustain the health of Klamath fisheries and communities. In December, we expect the bill to head to the full Senate for a vote, likely as part of a larger piece of legislation. Editor Pat Bushey from the Herald and News just published an excellent editorial on the urgent need to pass this legislation. This editorial is reprinted below with permission. 

Connect the dots on taking out the dams

There are still big hurdles left for the proposed Klamath Basin water agreement now in Congress, but, yes its approval by a key U.S. Senate committee last week was a big step.

Until last Thursday, the agreement, a package of three separate but tightly connected measures, hadn’t shown many signs of life since being put together last spring by many of the stakeholders in Klamath River issues.

Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved it, 17-5.

On Friday, the Klamath County commissioners worked on a draft of a letter opposing the settlements, primarily in the misguided belief that there can be an overall settlement without dam removal. Commissioners should stop kidding people in the Klamath Basin, even if it is the posture that got them elected.

The owners and operators of the four dams want them removed and so do the Klamath Tribes, whose first priority water rights have been affirmed by Oregon’s adjudication process.

The Tribes will make decisions that govern water allocations in low-water years. Their primary focus has been to keep water in the river and in Upper Klamath Lake to improve the Basin’s ecosystem. There is no reason to think that will change.

The Tribes have an agreement with irrigators on the 240,000-acre Klamath Reclamation Project not to fully enforce the water rights, but how long it lasts is up to the Tribes.

Time is running out.

Until recently, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., served as chairman of the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee. He has since moved to the more powerful position of chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He strongly supports the agreement.

Wyden, however, will lose the Finance chairmanship when a new Congress convenes Jan. 3 and Republicans become the Senate majority. They already hold a House majority.

The bills are aimed at providing more certainty of water and affordable power rates for irrigators, an economic aid package for the Klamath Tribes and studies that will likely lead to removing the four Klamath River dams. The package now goes to the full Senate for action.

It would then have to be approved by the Republican House before going to the president.

That scenario is dicey at best and will be even more so when the new Congress convenes Jan. 3 and Republicans assume control of both Houses. Rep. Greg Walden, who represents Oregon’s Second Congressional District, including Klamath County and the rest of Eastern Oregon, is Oregon’s only Republican congressman.

He has moved up in congressional ranks, and maintains the strong support of the Second District, which makes his lack of support for the settlement all the more noticeable.

There also is opposition to it from the Hoopa Tribe on the lower Klamath River, which doesn’t believe it goes far enough in recognizing tribal rights.

Pacific Power built and owns the dams and is collecting a 2 percent surtax on power rates that will go toward the cost of dam removal and is capped at $200 million. The cap dies if the proposed agreement does, but that won’t prevent the dams’ removal.

It’s vitally important to the Basin’s future that the agreements are approved, and that the best chance of doing it is in the lame-duck session of the current congress rather than waiting for a new congress, including new members unfamiliar with the Basin’s water issues.

A push from the local area could help. If you want to tell Rep. Greg Walden how you feel on the issue, you can do so on his web page: walden.house.gov/contact-greg. Contact information for his Washington, D. C. office, is: 2182 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; phone, 202-225-6730, Fax: 202-225-5774.

As for Klamath County commissioners, they should stop posturing and connect the dots.

*Photo courtesy of flickr.