Water issues group making some headway
Klamath River stakeholders from the headwaters in Oregon to
where it flows into the Pacific Ocean in Northern California
gathered this week in Medford seeking common ground on
solutions to water usage, among other topics.
what he describes as the most substantive meeting yet, Alan
Mikkelsen said that some 65 people representing the Northern
California tribes, wildlife and marine interests, Bureau of
Reclamation, environmental groups and On Project and Off
Project irrigators met for a full day of talks.
“Pretty much everyone in the basin,” said Mikkelsen, who is
a senior adviser to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on
water and western resources. He has been charged with
restarting talks among the various interests in the Basin —
after a legislative solution failed to pass in Congress — to
see if an agreement can be reached in sharing the water to
both protect endangered fish and keep irrigators solvent.
Missing at the table was the Klamath Tribes, which holds the
primary water rights in the upper basin flowing into Upper
Klamath Lake. However, observers from the Tribes were in the
meeting room to take notes, but they did not participate.
Mikkelsen said he talked with Tribal Chairman Don Gentry
later in the day about tribal participation.
told the H&N Thursday that tribal staff attended the meeting
and took notes. The staff will report to the tribal council
on Monday and the council could decide the next steps.
Gentry declined to elaborate until after the council meets.
Mikkelsen and the Tribes have been at odds lately over the
water talks. In August talks came to an abrupt halt, with
both sides saying their issues are not being heard. For the
Klamath Tribes it centers on adequate water levels to
protect of endangered short-nosed and Lost River sucker
species; fish important to the tribal culture. The fear is
if nothing is done, the species may go extinct.
Mikkelsen, he said he was not well received while meeting
with the Tribes and trying to jump-start water negotiations.
September, the Interior Department abruptly canceled the
last year of a five-year fish study, worth about $500,000.
It upset the Tribes, which believes the study is vital to
protect the fish. Politically, it appeared Interior was
sending a message to the Tribes to force them to the table.
in November, the Klamath Tribes withdrew a lawsuit regarding
lake levels in Upper Klamath Lake against the Bureau of
Reclamation. That came in light of Reclamation’s
announcement that a new biological opinion underway is
expected to be completed by April 2019, four months sooner
than previously stated. A biological opinion guides
Reclamation on water releases down river.
Mikkelsen has noted that lawsuits from any party is
detrimental to the talks and was not interested in
negotiating if there is pending legal action that may hamper
Meanwhile, the outcome of Wednesday’s Medford meeting is
that a few committees have been assigned to look at water
quality issues, fisheries management, water supply, the past
legislation regarding deliveries, among other things. No
specifics were provided.
going to try to pick some of the easiest issues to resolve
first, to be blunt; then pick the next easiest issue. At
some point, the momentum might find a global solution,” he
said. “Right now we’re trying to pick out an idea that
everyone can agree on that can easily be fixed. I think
everyone went away pleased with what was accomplished.”
committees plan to report back at the January meeting in
Medford. There’s a tentative meeting in February in Redding,
meetings are by invitation only and the press is not
permitted to attend.
we are trying to do here is build some relationships in the
Basin, no offense to the press. If we invited the public and
the press to these talks they would have to be held in an
auditorium,” Mikkelsen said, “and would turn into a sporting
event. I just don’t think negotiating with the press present
is necessarily the best strategy.”
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