Last Fall, Senator Wyden along with Senator Merkely, Congressman Walden, and Governor Kitzhaber formed the Klamath Basin Task Force. The Task Force was made up of representatives from a wide range of Klamath Basin interests including Tribes, irrigators, fishermen, Klamath dam owner PacifiCorp, and conservationists. The Taks Force's mission was threefold: 1) reduce the cost of implementing the Klamath Agreements, 2) resolve the water shortages of the Upper Klamath Basin (the areas upstream of Upper Klamath Lake), and 3) identify a way to enable Off-Project farmers and the wildlife refuges to access the same lower-cost federal power available to On-Project irrigators through the KBRA.
Reduce Costs of Klamath Agreements
Given that the Klamath Agreements are designed to solve many significant problems facing a water shed that's larger than nine of the fifty states, it has a significant price tag for implementation - over $800 million. The Task Force was directed find a want to significantly cut the cost while still achieving the goals of the Agreements. The Task Force successfully identified a 38% reduction in the total cost of new federal appropriations that would be required to implement the original 2010 Agreements.
Upper Basin Crisis
Last year was a below average water year in the Upper Basin. Then, after over 35 years of litigating the issue, the Water Rights of the Klamath Tribes were adjudicated by an Oregon court. The adjucation clearly recognizes the Klamath Tribes as the most senior water rights holder to large amounts of Upper Basin water. With Tribal fisheries and other resources suffering from lack of water in the Rivers and Upper Klamath Lake, the Klamath Tribes used their senior water rights to restore natural flows to the environment but this left over 100,000 head of cattle without water creating hardship for hundreds of ranching families. The Task Force was directed to find a way to address this problem along with all the other problems addressed by the Klamath Agreements. The Task Force developed an Agreement in Principle that outlines the steps that must be taken in order to adequately address water allocation issues for Off-Project Upper Basin ranchers in light of the recent Klamath Water Adjudication. The Agreement in Principle identifies a path forward that would sufficiently increase in-stream flows and improve river-side habitat in order to address Tribal needs while allowing the majority of Upper Basin irrigation to continue once specific conditions are met.
The Task Force identified and set out a path to find reasonable power cost relief for irrigators both inside and outside of the Klamath Reclamation Project in order to facilitate more efficient use and reuse of water. One key component of any overall irrigation and drainage power cost strategy must make Upper Basin farmers and ranchers eligible to receive an allocation of federally generated power. The Task Force has recommended that any federal legislation include a provision making Upper Basin off-Project irrigators eligible to receive this lower cost power.
With the release of the Task Force's Final Report, Senator Wyden announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at implementing the Klamath Agreements in early 2014.