Native News Network Staff in Native Currents. Discussion »
CHILOQUIN, OREGON The best path to bringing the salmon home, protecting Tribal Treaty Rights, and ending the expensive water wars in the Klamath Basin is the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. Together the two Agreements will remove the Klamath River dams, secure water for tribal fisheries, restore fish habitat throughout the Basin and lead to the reacquisition of the Mazama forest.
Fishing the Klamath Basin
The Agreements were overwhelmingly approved by a Tribal Referendum in January 2010, and were signed by the Klamath Tribes and many other parties, and endorsed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, in February, 2010. Since that time the process of performing the necessary scientific studies and preparing legislation to enact the Agreements has been vigorously under way.
In November of 2010 an important step was taken when Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley introduced a bill, S. 1851, to enact the Agreements. A sister bill, HR 3398, was introduced in the House by Congressman Thompson. The legislation is called the "Klamath Basin Economic Restoration Act of 2011." It will provide funding for the Agreements and will authorize the federal activities necessary to carry out the goals of the Tribes and other Agreement parties.
Legislation of this breadth and complexity always takes time to be enacted, and these bills are moving very slowly because the current political climate in Washington is very unproductive.
Originally, the Agreements required a Secretarial Determination by March 31, 2012, regarding removal of the dams. The slow pace of legislation in Congress will surely cause this deadline to be moved back to a later date.
The slow pace has been a source of concern for some, but recently Secretary Salazar reemphasized the United States' commitment to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement saying, "We continue our collaboration with states, tribes and local communities to finalize the scientific studies and environmental analysis, and we will continue to work with Congress on legislation that would authorize a decision to be made."
Vice Chairman Don Gentry, who also serves on the Klamath Tribes Negotiation Team, echoed these sentiments and observed that the Tribes' strategy provides flexibility where legislative timing is concerned. "Timing of the legislation and the Secretarial Determination does not affect the schedule for dam removal which remains on target for 2020." He also reported that more than $30 million has been collected by PacifiCorp toward the cost of eventual dam removal, a strong indicator that implementation of the Agreements is under way.
In early February, Klamath Tribes Negotiation Team representatives Gentry and Jeff Mitchell traveled to Washington DC, to meet directly with relevant Congress members and their staffs. They were joined by Richard Guest, a senior staff attorney with the Washington DC office of the Native American Rights Fund which is assisting the Tribes with the necessary legislative work. The Tribes' delegation reported that the congressional offices are generally supportive but are concerned about the cost of the KBRA when federal funding of almost anything is subjected to very close scrutiny.
The KBRA parties are compiling information to demonstrate to Congress that, in the long-run, the cost of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is actually less than the cost of doing nothing. The history of conflict and drought in the Basin has been very expensive not only for the people locally, but for the government as well, because of the emergency funding that is often required. The likelihood of an extremely dry water year in 2012 will add emphasis to the need for action on the legislation.
Councilman Mitchell observed,
“The Tribes are in this for the long haul. Congressional gridlock presents a challenge, but our elected officials understand that the Agreements are the best solution for Basin natural resource problems, and Senator Merkley's bill is bringing a healthy focus to the process.”
In addition, the Tribes continue to work directly with Senator Merkley and Department of the Interior officials to ensure that the acquisition of the Mazama forest parcel remains a top priority within this process.
The coalition of KBRA parties is working toward a Congressional hearing later this year. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is a member of the key Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. During Senator Wyden's recent visit to the Klamath Basin tribal representatives met with him and his staff to discuss the need and format of such a hearing.
Vice Chairman Gentry summarized the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement situation, saying,
“We have made a lot of progress and the Agreements remain on track with full support of the parties and the United States. But there is heavy lifting yet to be done in Congress. The Tribes remain undaunted and committed to the work because it is the best thing we can do for our Treaty rights and our future generations.”
posted March 29, 2012 7:00 am edt
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