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Revived Klamath dam removal deal adds offer of money for farmers Updated on April 5, 2016 at 7:11 PM

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Posted on April 5, 2016 at 1:41 PM





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The Ore go n i a n /Ore go n L i ve

A revived pact to remove four dams from the Klamath Basin will take




another step forward Wednesday, when Oregon, California and the federal government pledge millions of dollars for farmers upstream who count on river water to irrigate their fields.



The new agreement is set to be announced by Gov. Kate Brown and other top officials during a ceremony on Yurok tribal land in California. It marks the latest pact to emerge



from high- level talks on Klamath River restoration – – an effort that took on new urgency after a water- sharing deal, years in the making, collapsed late in 2015.



In February, Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell celebrated a deal with utility company PacifiCorp to tear down aging dams that failed to produce significant amounts of hydroelectric power at



the same time as they blocked fish from spawning grounds.

Taken together, officials say, the agreements with PacifiCorp and Klamath irrigators could help settle decades of



fighting among tribes, ranchers, farmers and environmentalists over fish health, land stakes and highly contentious water rights.

“We’re not done yet,” Richard Whitman, Gov. Kate Brown’s natural resources policy adviser,



told The Oregonian/OregonLive in an interview.

“Dam removal is one important piece of putting the basin on a stable footing,” he continued. “But ultimately we need a



land and water deal that gives the irrigators some certainty over how much water they have and gives the Klamath tribes some land restoration.”

The dam agreement will go before the



Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an administrative body, instead of Congress. By making that switch, in part because Republicans in Congress balked at removal plans, advocates hope they’ve crafted an end- run



that can salvage a wider deal.

One part of that effort, the offers of aid to be announced Wednesday, will help shield farmers “from any



consequences” once salmon return upstream, Whitman said. That return could happen as soon as 2021, assuming federal regulators give the dam plan final approval and work begins as planned in 2020.



That’s a moment tribal leaders are eager to see.

“That’s our livelihood,” Thomas O’Rourke Sr., chairman of the Yurok tribe, told The Associated Press. “If the river’s sick,



our fish are sick, the animals that live around it become sick, and the people become sick.”

But farmers and irrigators worry they’ll have to install expensive screens



to keep salmon out of irrigation pumps and canals, something that could cost tens of millions of dollars.



Whitman said Oregon, California and the federal government have agreed to find money for screens or other equipment to divert fish from irrigation channels. S. Craig Tucker, a researcher working



on the issue for the Karuk tribe, said there may not be a full guarantee for farmers worried about extra costs. The idea is to offset those costs as



much as possible.

“We’re going to make sure that if there need to be fish screens, fish ladders and restoration projects,” he said, “we’re going to work hard to fund that, so it’s not



a new burden on farmers.”

Most of that money would from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But Oregon’s share could reach “a few million



dollars” nonetheless, Whitman said, though the costs would likely be spread over several years.

State officials are hoping Oregon could absorb the expense, through existing watershed and



salmon funding programs.

“We may have to come back to the Legislature” for more, Whitman said. “We’ll see on that.”

A final restoration pact may yet prove elusive.



The agreement that died last year had already threatened to unravel amid disputes between tribes and farm groups.

And the factions wouldn’t be able to dust it off intact even



if they wanted to. Private timber lands in the old Klamath reservation that would have been purchased and set aside for tribes has since been sold to another buyer.



Other changes could involve funding for work alongside rivers and streams to improve water quality.

The dams are expected to



come down even if those talks don’t coalesce. But the factions will spend the next several months working on loose ends, mindful that change in the White House next



year could inject even more drama into a subject that’s seen plenty.

“If there’s an opportunity,” Whitman said, “we’d like to be in a



position to take it.”

– – Denis C. Theriault

[email protected]

503- 221- 8430; @TheriaultPDX



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