County Commissioners Consider Withdrawing From Klamath Settlements
By MALCOLM TERENCE, TRT Contributing Writer
New commissioners in Klamath County, the equivalent of supervisors in a California county, have reopened discussions to decide whether or not to cancel an extension for the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). An earlier set of commissioners passed the extension a few months ago.
Since then two members of the three-member board were replaced by two vocally anti-KBRA commissioners in an election. Reports in Klamath Falls’ Herald and News say that nearly 70 people spoke at a hearing on the issue last week, split down the middle in favor or against.
All 42 of the parties to the KBRA, including tribes, irrigators, environmental groups, fishermen, counties and agencies, had endorsed a two-year extension of the agreements by the December 31, 2012, deadline. It was not clear how a switch by Klamath County after the deadline might affect that extension.
One of the new commissioners is Tom Mallams, an upper basin rancher with a long history against the KBRA. He is also against removal of the lowest four dams on the Klamath River.
Mallams, in a phone interview, said he needed to lay aside his previous opposition to make a fair decision. He said he was reviewing all the testimony, reading through more than 300 e-mails and reading hundreds of pages on the KBRA and dam removal in a new report released by the Department of Interior.
Mallams was once a party to the settlement talks that developed the KBRA as a representative of the off-project water users. But, he balked at accepting the final product or at signing confidentiality agreements.
In a previous election, Klamath County voters had endorsed the KBRA by a narrow margin but Mallams discounted that vote, calling the measure deceptively worded, because a No vote could be interpreted as a Yes.
The ballot asked voters whether the county should discontinue participation in the KBRA water allocation process.
Among the speakers supporting the KBRA were members of the Klamath Tribes, which recently held their own vote and strongly supported the KBRA and dam removal.
The Herald and News quoted Klamath Tribes vice-chairman Don Gentry, “You as our public citizens have the moral and legal obligation; though we’re a minority in our own homeland, you need to protect our rights and do what’s right for this community. That is protect all the resources so they’re sustainable.”
The Klamath Tribes circulated a broad alert to its members and other KBRA supporters before the hearing and there was large turnout, complete with drums and picket signs that overflowed the meeting room and spilled onto the front steps of the county building.
One speaker, Bernard Vance, a pastor from Siskiyou County, said the KBRA and dam removal violated state law in eight ways including the release of 200 million tons of toxic sludge into the lower river. Another opponent was Richard Marshall, president of the Siskiyou County Water Users, who complained the agreements were drafted in secret.
Another opposed speaker said the KBRA was useless because the Endangered Species Act still trumps all of the KBRA’s provisions and called for a time when the ESA protected jobs as well as species.
Not all ranchers opposed the KBRA. Gary Wright, president of the Klamath Water Users, said the 20 years of litigation that preceded the agreements had accomplished nothing.
Sid Staunton said that potato growing brought $100 million in gross sales to the county. KBRA created stability in water supply and lacking that, competitors would move in and challenge the market share.
The commissioners plan to discuss the issue themselves at their meeting Feb. 19 and possibly decide whether or not to continue support.
A videotape of the February 12 public hearing is available online at http://www.klamathcounty.org/commissioners/weekly_meetings.asp