DORRIS — Upset about not being included on the Klamath Basin Task Force, Siskiyou County supervisors and Klamath County commissioners Monday decided to create their own task force to study and make recommendations on Klamath Basin-wide water issues.
Commissioners and supervisors from both counties expressed disappointment about not being asked to be part of a task force created earlier this year by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden. The main purpose of the joint session, held at the Butte Valley Community Center in Dorris, was to discuss water-related issues.
“It’s a disappointment we’ve been left out in the cold again,” said Siskiyou County Supervisor Michael Kobseff. “How is it we don’t have a seat at the table,” echoed Klamath County Commissioner Dennis Linthicum, noting he and the other two commissioners, Tom Mallams and Jim Bellet, are all vocal opponents of agreements that call for removal of our Klamath River dams.
“They probably didn’t want us at the table,” Bellet said. “I don’t think they’re going to accomplish anything.”
The Klamath Basin Task Force was created by Wyden to try to move talks forward on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (Klamath County commissioners voted March 12 to opt out of supporting the KBRA). Among its several goals, the KBRA proposes measures to provide guaranteed water to Klamath Basin irrigators, improve fisheries, provide a land base for the Klamath Tribes and remove four hydroelectric dams — three in Siskiyou County and one in Klamath County.
The KBRA and the companion Klamath Hydroelectic Settlement Agreement (KHSA) have stalled in Congress.
Based on a nonbinding vote and commissioner races, the agreements are strongly opposed by a majority of voters in Siskiyou and Klamath counties. Like Klamath County commissioners, all five Siskiyou County supervisors oppose dam removals.
Linthicum said the Wyden group includes representatives from such environmental groups at Trout Unlimited, but “elected officials are not part of the task force.”
“Wyden should be called to task,” said Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong. “Why did he structure it this way?”
All eight county officials said the to-be formed group will operate under the assumption that no dams will be removed. Siskiyou County Counsel Brian Morris said he will draft the framework for the bi-county task force by next week, and leave the agreement open to possibly include Modoc County supervisors and Jackson County commissioners.
The eight county officials will prepare lists of their major concerns to help determine common issues and concerns.
Brandon Criss, the Siskiyou supervisor who represents Butte Valley and a portion of the Tulelake Basin, suggested issues might includes hydroelectric power, fisheries, agriculture and private property concerns.
“It has to be a dams-in solution or it’s not going to be received by the people,” Criss said of any recommendations by the new task force.
Armstrong suggested the new task force move speedily to make recommendations “and not get too far into the weeds of science,” noting the group does not have the time or finances for in-depth studies.
“We don’t need science, we need the huge ideas,” Linthicum said.
Mallams said he has made few comments on the Wyden task force “to give them a chance to produce,” noting he has no high expectations and believes it is heavily loaded with groups favoring the KBRA. “Hopefully we can work in concert with the Wyden task force,” but if not he said the new group should quickly move forward.
(Mallams did testify at the original Senate hearing in Washington, D.C., in June, representing his ranching interests and not as a public official).
The Wyden task force had hoped to make recommendations on three key issues — power costs for irrigators, water supplies and ways of reducing the cost of implementing the KBRA — last month. At a Sept. 20 meeting, the deadline was pushed back to Oct. 10 when the group will meet in Klamath Falls. A review the Wyden task force recommendations had been a key issue for Monday’s joint meeting.
Instead of full discussions on some items, the group agreed to merge a request to new Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell to visit and tour the Upper and Lower Klamath River, discuss actions to enhance water quality and fisheries from the Iron Gate Dam to the Klamath River, and discuss alternatives to the KBRA and KHSA with the new task force.