On March 5, 2014, the Klamath Tribes, United States, Oregon, and Upper Basin farmers and ranchers released a draft settlement agreement that could pave the way for stem to stern restoration of the entire Klamath Basin through implementation of three Klamath Agreements. The proposed Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (UKBA) defines the means to achieve water savings described in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and would be largely funded by the KBRA. These are again linked to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) which specifies means to remove the lower four Klamath dams.
Why is another Agreement Necessary?
Already, Klamath communities have developed two interrelated agreements - the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). The KHSA describes the pathway to achieve removal of the lower four Klamath River dams; the KBRA describes the resolution of the prolonged water war between farmers and ranchers on the United States' Klamath Irrigation Project and fish dependent communities downstream. These Agreements were signed by over 45 Klamath Basin parties including dam owner PacifiCorp. Full implementation of these Agreements require congressional action and Congressmen Ron Wyden has pledged to introduce legislation later this year.
Further upstream of the Klamath Irrigation Project there are many more farming and ranching communities that use Klamath watershed water, many of whom were not involved in the KHSA and KBRA negotiations. However, these landowners have a stake in the issue which became very apparent last year when the Klamath Tribes were granted senior water rights for large portions of the Upper Basin. This led to large scale water shut offs necessary to protect Klamath Tribal fisheries but left over 100,000 cattle without water.
Last year, after a congressional hearing on these issues, Senators Wyden and Merkley, Congressman Greg Walden, and Governor Kitzhaber created a Legislative Task Force made up of representatives from a wide range of Klamath Basin communities. They acknowledged the need for legislation to solve Klamath Basin water issues and challenged the Task Force to, among other things, find a way to solve water crisis currently being experienced by Upper Basin irrigators upstream of the federal Klamath Irrigation Project. The UKBA does just that.
What does the UKBA Do?
In large part, the UKBA provides the detailed mechanism for achieving water savings detailed in section 16 of the KBRA. In order to balance water use between agriculture, fish, and wildlife refuges, there is a series of restoration and conservation activities described in the KBRA. One of these is increasing inflow into Upper Klamath Lake by 30,000 acre feet through water use retirement programs in the Upper Basin. The UKBA describes in detail how this would be achieved through water purchases from willing sellers. In addition, the UKBA details a habitat restoration program that landowners can participate in as a means to get permit coverage under the Endangered Species Act. Although Oregon has issued a 'Final Order of Determination' regarding the Klamath Tribes' water rights claims, the issue remains far from resolved. Claimants on both sides can still file additional appeals that could mean years of additional court battles. The UKBA seeks to finally and unequivocally resolve the adjudication and result in a final decree all parties can accept. Finally, the UKBA provides funding for the Klamath Tribes to have some aboriginal lands repatriated which would be managed as commercial timberlands creating jobs in the community.
How does the UKBA affect KBRA and KHSA?
All three Agreements were written so as to be interconnected. The idea is that simultaneous implementation of all three Agreements represent an action plan for river restoration on a scale never before seen in US history. The Klamath Basin is politically diverse, so these agreements are carefully written to restore fisheries in a manner that allows local agricultural communities to thrive and prosper. It is the parties' hope that since the grassroots support for these agreements is politically diverse, and even more so with the introduction of the UKBA, that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will support them.
Parties to the Agreements are working with the Oregon and California congressional delegations in hopes of introducing legislation to implement the Agreements this year. Most Klamath stakeholders are more optimistic than ever that the Klamath Crisis is on the verge of being resolved.