Klamath River settlement nearly ready

May 01, 2007 12:00 am

The Associated Press

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – After two years, the end may be in sight for settlement talks in the dispute over water rights and four hydroelectric dams operated by PacifiCorp.

The Portland-based utility invited 28 groups, including state and federal agencies, three county governments, irrigators, four tribes and environmental organizations into the settlement negotiations.

Now, the groups involved say they expect to release details of a settlement in a few weeks to a few months.

The settlement is expected to lead to the Klamath Summit, an event promised by the governors of California and Oregon last year to address watershed issues.

The settlement talks included discussions on affordable power rates for irrigators, the sustainability of fish in the Klamath River and the dependability of water supplies throughout the watershed.

Dan Keppen of the Family Farm Alliance said water issues in the Klamath Basin and along the Klamath River have been building for a number of years.

Events such as a decision to shut off irrigation water to save fish in 2001 created rifts in communities and among government agencies.

Keppen said that many of the negotiating methods employed to resolve those issues added to the conflict -- including lawsuits, aggressive legislation and attacks through the media.

"It just wasn't healthy at all," he said.

When the relicensing for the dams came up, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave PacifiCorp the option of a settlement with involved stakeholders -- or the traditional legal and technical process that works through petitions and testimony.

The utility decided to try both options.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said the mix of groups influenced his organization to introduce discussions of water supplies, affordable power and the possibility of reintroducing migratory fish species to the Klamath Basin.

"It's not often you get two states, the feds and four tribes in the same room," he said.

Addington noted that with so many different groups working on complex issues, individual philosophies would be challenged.

Both he and Craig Tucker, Klamath Campaign coordinator for the Karuk Tribe of California, said that some groups tied up the negotiations at times, causing old feelings to resurface and the process to get bogged down. The Karuk Tribe is seeking the sustainability of fish species in the river as a resource for tribal members.

But the efforts are paying off, participants said.

It's "impressive," Tucker said, "that it's the farmers and the tribes that get along the best of any two groups in the room."