klamath_map_-_courtesy_u.s._bureau_of_reclamation

Courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

New Klamath Water Bill Has One Opponent in Hoopa Valley Tribe

The Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2014, introduced on May 21 by senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was created to replace long-running conflicts over scarce water resources in the Klamath River Basin, but there is at least one tribe not a fan of the bill.

“The Hoopa Valley Tribe is shocked and disappointed,” said Hoopa Valley Tribe Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten, “that the so-called ‘Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2014’ introduced by Senators: Feinstein, Boxer, Merkley, and Wyden would effectively terminate water and fishing rights of our tribe.”

According to a press release from Wyden’s office, the bill will put into law landmark agreements that were hammered out by Klamath Basin stakeholders, including the recent Upper Basin Agreement. Wyden’s release states the bill will build a cooperative water management plan that will protect fish and wildlife and provide more predictable water supplies for farmers and ranchers. One aspect of the bill, as Vigil-Masten addressed, will be the permanently protected and enhanced riparian areas, restoring hundreds of miles of fish habitat and getting additional water to the National Wildlife Refuges.

A Hoopa Valley Tribe press release says the bill will ratify three lengthy agreements (the Klamath Basin Restoration Act, Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, and Upper Basin Comprehensive Agreement) negotiated between farmers, PacifiCorp, federal agencies, and three tribes, while calling for $900 million in federal appropriations and unnecessarily linking tribal water rights in the Klamath River to decommissioning of four obsolete hydroelectric dams owned by PacifiCorp.

The bill has received support from the parties involved in the three agreements which include: American Rivers, California Trout, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Karuk Tribe, Klamath Water Users Association, The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, PacifiCorp, Salmon River Restoration Council, Sustainable Northwest, Trout Unlimited, and Upper Klamath Water Users.

Following the bill’s announcement, the 12 groups in support of Senator Wyden’s leadership and the brighter economic and environmental future released a statement: “We thank Senator Ron Wyden for working tirelessly to help us find a lasting solution to our water sharing challenges in the Klamath Basin. We are hopeful that this legislation will finally bring an end to more than a century of challenging times in our community. People came together from all corners of the basin to hammer out these agreements, and the give and take has not always been easy. We are grateful to Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer for sponsoring this important legislation. Similarly, Governor Kitzhaber and other leaders who have supported our local process have given all basin residents a reason to hope for a brighter future here for our children, our grandchildren, and the fish and wildlife that rely on this region’s natural resources for survival.”

The bill and restoration efforts look to create more than 4,000 jobs to be created or preserved including those in farming, ranching, commercial and recreational fishing, and construction in and near the basin according to Wyden’s release.

Despite the positives involved with the bill, tribes like the Hoopa are directly affected as well, as Masten has pointed out. She said the bill directs the Secretary to cut off senior water rights of the tribe to Klamath River water and fish in California in favor of water diversions for irrigation in Oregon. “Fish need water. The little water we get under this bill will jeopardize on going fishery restoration in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers,” said Chairwoman Masten.

For over 20 years, the Hoopa Valley Tribe has worked to restore salmon of the Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest tributary, and in 1992 obtained legislation mandating that the fishery restoration work be completed. That restoration work is jeopardized by the Klamath Agreements and the proposed legislation, Fisheries Department Director, Michael Orcutt, pointed out. “We are optimistic that Congress will not approve these agreements at the expense of our treaty rights,” said Michael Orcutt.

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