Walden proposes last-minute alternative to Klamath deal

By Debra Kahn | 12/04/2015 06:54 AM EST

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), whom the California and Oregon Senate delegation has been counting upon to shepherd Klamath River Basin legislation in the House, released a discussion draft yesterday that bears little resemblance to the Senate bill that has been waiting for a companion since its reintroduction in January.

Backers of a set of hard-won agreements to take down dams and redistribute water in the basin, known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, have their work cut out for them to reconcile the House and Senate versions by the end of the year.

The Senate bill, S. 133, by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), would implement the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a set of water-sharing, dam removal and habitat restoration pacts hammered out over the past 10 years between water users, fishermen, American Indian tribes and other residents of the California-Oregon border region.


The KBRA represents a rare success story in the West’s long history of water wars. In response to scarce water supplies and dwindling fish populations, farmers, tribes, ranchers, environmentalists and power generators came to the table and agreed in 2010 on two sets of agreements that would restore habitat and remove four fish-blocking hydropower dams on the Klamath River, which runs from southern Oregon to northern California. They would also allow for delivery of water to national wildlife refuges that today have no water allocation under federal delivery projects.

Another agreement reached by the parties in the spring of 2014 provides a guide to sharing the pain during drought years, increasing river restoration, decreasing water demand by ranchers and boosting economic development for Klamath tribes (E&E Daily, June 14, 2014).

All three agreements contain provisions that require congressional approval, but one of the 2010 agreements also expires at the end of this year if not ratified. The Senate bill made it through a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup last year and has been reintroduced in its marked-up version.

Advocates of the agreements have been ratcheting up pressure via newspaper advertisements calling out Walden, who represents the Oregon part of the Klamath region. In October, he said he would introduce legislation but nothing emerged until after a meeting yesterday morning between Walden, Merkley, Wyden and Reps. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

Walden’s draft bill would not authorize the dams’ removal, instead leaving it up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It also would give 100,000 acres of Forest Service land each to two Klamath Basin counties on either side of the state border for timber-cutting — nonstarters for the Democrats backing the Senate bill.

"It’s pretty late in the game to be floating a discussion draft that drops the whole centerpiece of the Klamath agreement — dam removal — and introduces very controversial new concepts," Huffman, who represents the border region to the west of LaMalfa’s district, said in an interview yesterday.

Merkley and Wyden were more measured but also rejected Walden’s specific proposals.

"While we appreciate this step, the draft House legislation falls short of implementing the carefully-negotiated agreement of the Basin stakeholders," they said in a statement. "The giveaway of federal lands to counties is a known non-starter in the Senate. It also eliminates a provision on dam removal that is central to the bargain worked out over years with blood, sweat, and tears. Nevertheless, having a House bill on the table is a constructive step, and we will do whatever it takes to work with our colleagues in the House on something that reflects the stakeholders’ vision and can actually pass."

With less than a month left before the 2014 agreement expires, finding a legislative vehicle for the language might be impossible, Merkley said on an Oregon Public Broadcasting radio show Wednesday.

He mentioned the omnibus spending bill and highway bill as two possible but increasingly unlikely homes for the agreement. "The opportunities are diminishing," he said. "But if we had a House bill, that would in fact be a major step forward, and then assuming that there is no vehicle to get that done here before January 1, we would hope to try to hold the coalition together, perhaps get an extension of the Klamath Basin Agreement and then find a vehicle."