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Klamath River Basin water adjudication gets positive reactions

Herald and News 3/9/13 by Devan Schwartz

Water Adjudication

H&N photo by Steven Silton

Water Adjudication

On Thursday afternoon the Klamath River Basin Adjudication document arrived at the Klamath County Circuit Court from Salem in 11 binders.

Klamath River Basin water adjudication was filed Thursday at the Klamath Falls County Courthouse after nearly 40 years of study, sparking a range of reactions and the prospect of future legal actions.

Klamath Tribal Water Attorney Bud Ullman said enforceable water rights have reached the Klamath Basin for the first time.

The Oregon Water Resources Department will start enforcing local water rights this irrigation season, Ullman said, and will continue doing so unless they are contradicted by future legal appeals. Cameron Wogan, presiding judge of the Klamath County courts, is tasked with handling appeals that may be filed against all or part of the final order.

Ullman has worked on water adjudication in the Klamath Basin since 1988 and has finally started to see his work reach fruition. However, the tribal water attorney expects the final legal process to take at least a couple years.

“In many instances, more water will be retained in the streams,” Ullman said, as opposed to that same water being used for irrigation or other purposes. He added that the final order of determination generally confirms tribal claims. Additional water will support tribal fishing and water ecology.

Ullman wasn’t the only one with a cautiously optimistic response to adjudication.

“The order appears to be a very positive development for Klamath Project irrigators,” said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, in a news release.

The KWUA stated that “the order also confirms the collaborative settlement between the Project districts and the Klamath Tribes, which was based on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.”

Addington said that a no-call agreement had been reached with the Klamath Tribes, a binding deal with the state stipulating the tribes will not call for Upper Klamath Lake levels that would trump pre-1908 water rights.

“The problem with adjudication is it creates winner and losers,” Addington said. “Some folks wanted to have adjudication rather than the KBRA and western water law is what we got.”

The general assessment of Addington was that adjudication so far looks positive for Klamath Project water users. “The lands we’re irrigating have a water right,” Addington summarized.

Klamath Irrigation District Manager Mark Stuntebeck said signatories to the KBRA made the correct decision and that much is reflected in the adjudication.

But if KID and the Klamath Project water users thus far consider themselves to be the winners, Stuntebeck predicts Upper Basin water users to be the biggest losers. “They’re the folks,” he said, “who are gonna come up short.”

County Commissioner Tom Mallams, who has a ranch north of Beatty, said with adjudication the state of Oregon has “done a disservice to its citizens.”

“From all indications it’s not good for Upper Basin irrigators,” Mallams said.

And the county commissioner considers further control of the federal government over local natural resources to be the true problem.

Mallams said tribal water claims will be made by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a division of the Department of the Interior.

“Who knows exactly what will happen?” asked Mallams, who, like many, hadn’t read through the thousands of pages of adjudication yet.

But Mallams did say he wouldn’t rule out another government water shutoff reminiscent of 2001 in the Klamath Basin.




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