Klamath water task force goes to work

MEDFORD — Members of a task force looking for solutions to the Klamath Basin's water woes should seize an opportunity that may not come again if they don't act, the natural resources adviser to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said.

The drought in the basin that has led to another irrigation shut-off this year underscores the significance of the panel, convened by Kitzhaber and members of the state's congressional delegation, the Klamath Falls Herald and News reported Friday.

The members met for the first time Thursday in Medford, and Kitzhaber's aide, Richard Whitman, said the members should focus on three issues.

One is water scarcity in the upper Klamath Basin, where irrigation has been constricted this year as the Klamath Tribes seek to protect fish by exercising the water rights the state has recently affirmed. The other two issues are cutting the cost of irrigation electricity and cutting the cost of an agreement that many of the parties made after an irrigation shut-off in 2001, a massive fish kill in 2002 and the closure of ocean salmon fishing off Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Whitman said the group would meet every three weeks, next in Klamath Falls on Aug. 1. Its recommendations are due Sept. 10. Subcommittees are to meet on the key issues.

The group consists of tribal members, irrigators, environmentalists and representatives of government agencies and power utilities.

Some were parties to agreements in the basin that haven't gained traction in Congress. Their cost, at $800 million, is one reason, and there's opposition to taking down Klamath River Dams.

Some parties dissented from the post-2001 agreements, such as the Hoopa tribe of California and environmentalists.

Upper basin irrigators, who had water in 2001 and don't this year, are split on the agreements.

Whitman and others said the task force isn't a referendum on what's known as the basin restoration agreement but rather a way to improve conditions in a year when the effect of scarce water already is being felt.

"Each and every person in this room can make a difference," said Becky Hyde, representative of Upper Klamath Water Users Association and a rancher whose water was recently shut off. "It's our job to get this thing over the top."

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