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Klamath Summit delayed to allow parties to negotiate
11/22/2006 by Jeff Barnard, Oregonian

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) A summit meeting to consider removing four dams and help restore struggling salmon runs in the Klamath River will be put off a month to give farmers, fishermen, Indian tribes and conservation groups time to bargain.

The groups contacted the governors of Oregon and California this week, saying they were making good progress on a settlement for re-licensing four hydroelectric dams widely seen as a major factor in the salmon collapse.

They said they had talks nearly daily over the past two weeks and hoped to bring the fruits of those to the summit.

"We just need some more time," said Steve Rothert of American Rivers, a conservation group participating in the talks. "We are addressing all of the issues that are of concern to those groups. We hope to basically resolve those issues, at least in principal, by the time of the summit."

The meeting was tentatively scheduled for mid-December in Klamath Falls, but will now likely be in late January.

The governors support the delay if it means a better chance of producing an agreement that can win the support of the federal government, said Mike Carrier, natural resources adviser to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne wants to see solutions on the table before committing to attend the summit and to return to Washington, D.C., to seek funding, Carrier said.

"The negotiations are a stakeholder-driven process," said Bill Maile, spokesman for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "We are dealing with complex issues, and a request for more time is an encouraging sign of progress."

Kulongoski and Schwarzenegger have said the meeting would seek solutions to the environmental crisis of the Klamath River, which flows from Upper Klamath Lake in Klamath Falls, Ore., across the Oregon-California border and through the Klamath Mountains to the Pacific Ocean between Eureka and Crescent City in California.

They said the top issue would be considering removal of the four dams that have blocked 350 miles of salmon habitat for nearly a century.

PacifiCorp, the Portland-based utility that owns the dams, is seeking a new 50-year operating license. It has said it would be willing to decommission the dams if its ratepayers are not hurt. That would likely mean state and federal funding to help pay for removing the dams and building alternative production.

The Klamath has been the site of bitter battles over water allocations since 2001, when irrigation was cut off to most of the 1,000 farms in the Klamath Reclamation Project straddling the Oregon-California border to provide water for threatened coho salmon during a drought.

When full irrigation was restored, tens of thousands of adult salmon died from gill rot diseases when low water crowded them into warm pools of the river.

This year, federal fisheries managers cut the commercial salmon catch by 90 percent off Oregon and California after wild Klamath chinook returns were projected to fall below minimum spawning goals for the third year in a row.

NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for restoring salmon runs, has said it wants to see salmon be able to swim freely past the Iron Gate, Copco I, Copco II and J.C. Boyle dams to reach historic spawning grounds, and has said removing the dams is the best way to achieve that.

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