Parties in the Upper Klamath Basin reach agreement

Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement implements several foundational elements of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, potentially creates new water market in the basin.

Stakeholders the U.S. Department of the Interior and stakeholders in the Upper Klamath Basin announced that they have reached an agreement addressing water and economic issues in the basin.

The agreement has three key features: a water use program (WUP), a riparian program and tribal economic development.

The WUP is a voluntary program to reduce water usage and thereby increase the inflows into Upper Klamath Lake by at least 30,000 AF.  A number of strategies will be employed to reduce water use, including:

  • Permanent retirement of up to 18,000 acres of land from irrigation
  • Permanent retirement of water rights
  • Water leasing
  • Water conservation and efficiency measures
  • Rotational water use
  • Water management strategies to meet flow objectives in low flow periods
  • Upland management, which includes improving soil conditions, crop rotation, and juniper removal.  The western juniper is a very thirsty native tree whose numbers have gotten out of hand due to modern fire control efforts.

The program also specifies how groundwater will be regulated when stream flows are not met.

The WUP will be implemented by a “Landowner Entity,” which will be composed of representatives from each of the major participating basins, and overseen by a “Joint Management Entity” under the direction of the Klamath tribes, Landowner Entity and state and federal representatives.

The riparian program is designed to permanently improve and protect riparian areas and restore fisheries.  To implement the program, the Landowner Entity will enter into agreements with willing landowners who will be compensated for engaging certain activities to help manage the riparian areas.

Terms related to tribal economic development establishes a Tribal Economic Development Fund and includes more opportunities for the tribes to exercise their cultural rights.

The agreement, which still must be agreed to by the Klamath Tribes’ General Council and effected irrigators, also addresses water right issues that were not resolved in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

The overall cost of this new agreement—the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement—and the Klamath Agreements of 2010 is $545 million, down from an estimated cost of $1 billion.  Short-term funding will be provided by a consortium of state and federal agencies.  Long-term funding, along with certain elements of the agreement, requires federal legislation (including legislation to authorize and appropriate funds for the 2010 Klamath Agreements).

When the parties announced that they had reached an agreement in principle in December, California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird issued a statement applauding the work of the task force.

“I applaud the leadership of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and the hard work of the Klamath Basin Task Force to get closer to reaching the goals of the Klamath Basin Agreements. The signing of this agreement in principle regarding Upper Klamath Basin water and economic issues is a critical step in the fight to save the basin, but we must keep our ultimate restoration goals in sight,” said Laird. “I truly appreciate the work California put into the task force. Now, we will redouble our efforts to advance necessary federal legislation that works for ranchers, tribes and fish. As one of the most important cultural, agricultural and biological regions in the West, the Klamath Basin deserves nothing less.”

State, federal and tribal representative voiced similar accolades with this announcement.

“This agreement is nothing short of historic,” said Oregon John Governor Kitzhaber. “On one of the more complex issues facing the state, people committed their time, energy, and expertise to come up with solutions that support a stable agricultural economy and healthy fisheries and riparian areas. Creating this kind of success through patient and deliberate collaboration shows us that when we work together, we can find a win in every conflict, and I send my thanks to the many people who created a way forward for the Basin.”

“I congratulate the Upper Klamath Basin community and the Klamath Tribes for their work to settle one of the most complex and difficult water disputes in the West,” said Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “The settlement unifies the Upper Klamath Basin by providing for a sustainable irrigation economy and protecting jobs while also restoring the streams of the native homeland of the Klamath Tribes in a manner that recognizes their senior water rights. I look forward to working with partners of the basin to enact legislation that makes this agreement and related agreements in the lower basin a reality.”

Don Gentry, Chairman of Klamath Tribes, said, “I am very pleased with the Klamath Tribal Council’s support of the Proposed Agreement. If approved, we will see an increase in water flows, improved habitat for current and future fish populations, and economic opportunities for our Tribe and Tribal members. It will help us restore our homeland and honor the Treaty our ancestors signed 150 years ago.”

Irrigators were also pleased, expressing sentiments of relief and hope.

Written by Marta Weismann