Legislation would enact agreements on dam removal, water rights and stream flow
Upper Klamath Basin water sharing legislation introduced Wednesday by California and Oregon's United States Senators includes authorization of the agreements that will remove four dams on the Klamath River and pump millions of dollars into improving salmon runs in the basin.
The Upper Klamath Basin Agreement was crafted by a task force appointed last year by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. The agreement was signed last month during a ceremony in Klamath County.
Water negotiations in the Klamath Basin were renewed last year when an Oregon state court affirmed that the Klamath Tribes held the most senior water rights in the basin dating back to "time immemorial."
The Senate bill gives Congressional approval to the Upper Basin Agreement, which includes increased stream flows into Upper Klamath Lake, more water certainty to irrigators, improved and protected riparian areas and economic development for the Klamath tribes and its members, according to a Senate press release.
"After nine months of hard work by the tribes, ranchers and government officials to craft an agreement that benefits the Upper Klamath Basin and those who rely on it, it is now time for Congress to step up," Wyden said in the release. "The people of the basin have set aside their differences for the benefit of the region. Congress should follow their example, pass this legislation and put the Klamath Basin on the road to recovery. I want to thank Senator Merkley for his steadfast support and help in crafting the agreement that is basis for this legislation."
Craig Tucker, Klamath coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, the second largest tribe in California, said that if the legislation is passed, dam removal on the Klamath could still occur by 2020, as originally sought during negotiations for the Klamath Agreements of the lower river.
Tucker said that some restoration work outlined in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement has already been pursued, "but the big ticket items, like removing dams, reintroducing fish to the upper basin," require congressional legislation, Tucker said.
Tucker said that the stakeholders involved in the Oregon-appointed task force breathed new life into Klamath Agreements, which had stalled in Congress since being first introduced in 2010.
"With the addition of these new stakeholders we passed the tipping point," Tucker said of the new legislation being introduced.
Without the sort of bold moves outlined in the Klamath Agreements, Tucker said that the Karuk Tribe believes the Klamath's fisheries are doomed, with coho salmon and spring chinook on the brink of extinction. In turn, that would destroy Karuk culture, Tucker said.
"They are a salmon people and salmon is an intrinsic part of tribal culture," Tucker said. "It's not just about saving fish for fish's sake; this is about protecting their culture."
Tucker said that restoration to salmon runs in the Klamath River would also improve the economies of coastal towns like Crescent City, which once had a much more robust commercial fishing industry.
"California is in the midst of a historic drought, and this bill - in particular the authorization of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement - will help Northern California," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in a press release.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Adam Spencer at email@example.com.