Members of the Klamath Tribes are speaking out against the Klamath water settlements and the new land base being written into them.
According to tribal member Ramona Mason, a Klamath-Shoshone who lives in Portland, she and other members support dam removal and returning salmon to the upper Klamath Basin, but they believe there is a better way to achieve those goals than the proposed water settlement, Senate Bill 133.
“We want things to work out but we don’t want to give up our treaty rights,” Mason said, referring to the Tribes’ Treaty of 1864. The treaty established time immemorial rights for harvesting fish and gathering food.
Tribal member Monte Powers, of Portland, said some Tribes’ members have suggested the settlement be renegotiated to include the “peak-to-peak boundary,” a several-million-acre land mass the Tribes believed they would acquire by signing the 1864 treaty.
Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry said he understands the frustration some tribal members feel, but in order for the Tribes to recover any land base, the acquisition must have state and federal support and pass through Congress.
“I fully understand where they are coming from but we aren’t in the position to do those things,” Gentry said.
“We know that even asking for the full reservation back would not be supported.”
The land base transfer now being considered is part of SB 133, the Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act.
The bill encompasses three Klamath water pacts: the 2010 Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and accompanying Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, and the 2014 Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.
Together, the agreements strive to remove four dams from the Klamath River, improve water and riparian conditions for fish and other species sacred to Basin tribes, and to create water certainty for Basin irrigators.
As part of the upper Basin agreement, the Tribes are slated to receive a $40 million stimulus package, which includes funds to purchase a tract of land for economic development. The tract was originally the Mazama Forest — a crucial bargained-for benefit in the KBRA — but that tract was sold to an international company in February.
On Wednesday, Gentry announced the forest land will be replaced by a 100,000-acre parcel adjacent to the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.
“I think water rights are worth more than $40 million and 100,000 acres,” Powers said. “Nobody is benefiting from this except the farmers.”
Gentry explained that the 1864 negotiated treaty rights also helped establish a “first in time, first in right” precedent for the Tribes. They also provided a basis for establishing the most senior water rights in the Klamath Basin. He said under adjudication, the Tribes have a “quantified and enforceable” water right, but the right has not been court decreed.
Adjudication, which designates surface water rights based on property claim priority dates, was first implemented in the Klamath Basin in 2013. Although the Klamath Tribes have a “time immemorial” water right, until the right is decreed, it is not finalized.
Gentry estimated the Tribes and other stakeholders could spend another 10 to 20 years in litigation before the Basin’s water rights are decreed. He said the Tribes’ court costs could exceed $1 million per year.
“We have a balanced negotiated agreement that we can enter into the courts,” he said. “If the agreements go away, all the parties will be back in litigation.”
According to Gentry, instead of risking an unfavorable court ruling two decades from now, stakeholders agreed to reach a settlement. He said through settlement, members hoped to strengthen the tribal community and economy and restore treaty resources.
The pact puts more water in the river and provides conditions for water-related goals that aren’t addressed in adjudication, such as riparian and upland forest restoration, and salmon introduction, he said.
Historic tribal lands
Gentry said the proposed replacement land parcel includes some of the Tribes most significant tribal camping areas. The Klamath Marsh was a central location for tribal members to hunt waterfowl and gather wocus.
Mason said the Tribes cannot afford to give up any more than they already have.
“We are the keepers of the land,” she said.
Jodean Bryant, a Klamath Tribes member living in Gresham, said she opposes to KBRA and has not at any time supported a water settlement or the acquisition of the Mazama Forest.
“When it gets right down to it, it’s taking all our rights from us,” Bryant said.
Bryant said her biggest concern is that the general council, which includes every registered member of the Klamath Tribes, is not receiving information in a timely manner. Bryant said the lack of communication is causing distrust and anger.
“Tribal members have been asking questions about this new deal, such as what would the priority date for the water right be on a new parcel, how do the tribes plan to manage this potential replacement parcel, and what other obligations or restrictions are already placed on the land? All we’ve heard is crickets,” member Willa Powless said in a statement. “The tribe is getting a bad deal no matter how you explain the KBRA. The tribe loses.”
Bryant said she doesn’t see the benefit a settlement could provide. She doesn’t believe $40 million will do much to create jobs or improve the Tribes’ economy.
Bryant said past actions have diminished her confidence that settlement is the right solution.