A coalition aimed at bringing multiple parties together to discuss the future of water resources in the Klamath Basin is hiring an additional facilitator to help with the effort.
Alan Mikkelsen, senior advisor to the Secretary of the Interior on water and western resource issues, said Friday he is continuing to take part in the so-called “Coalition of the Willing” meetings in addition to the facilitator.
Mikkelsen met with the coalition at the building housing the Bureau of Land Management office in Medford on July 30 and 31.
“This is supplementing what we’ve been doing,” Mikkelsen said, of the facilitator position. “What we decided this week while we were out there is we would allow the facilitator to use the month of August to basically do his interviews and discussions with all of the individual parties in the Basin, and then they would convene a meeting in September … We’ll be back in early October to see how everybody’s doing.”
Mikkelsen also emphasized solutions are nowhere on the horizon as work towards that goal continues on.
The goal is to reach consensus among the various interests in the Basin — after a legislative solution failed to pass in Congress several years ago — to see if an agreement can be reached in sharing the water to both protect endangered fish and keep irrigators solvent. It involves parties from the Klamath River headwaters in Oregon to where it flows into the Pacific Ocean in Northern California.
“I would not want to advertise that we are close to any long-term solutions at this point,” Mikkelsen said.
“Now it’s time to take the next step and to start seeing if the parties can actually start talking about difficult issues that need resolution,” Mikkelsen added.
The coalition meetings are closed to the public and the media and are being held in Medford or Redding to accommodate as many parties as possible, Mikkelsen said. A previous request to attend the meeting as a media observer was denied.
“I do not anticipate that they will be public meetings with the facilitator, either, at least to start with,” Mikkelsen said.
“We’ve got probably 50 or 60 people and maybe 20 to 30 different entities in the room right now, and just to open it up for a wide open public discussion at this point, when we’re in the very initial stages … we just can’t deal with those kinds of numbers right now because we don’t have anything to talk about.”
Mikkelsen confirmed that at least one representative from Klamath County Chamber of Commerce and from local government officials are attending the coalition, though he said no more than two people are representing one entity. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office, and USGS have also participated in discussions, Mikkelsen said.
“None of the counties or the cities participating have ever had a quorum,” Mikkelsen said. “In fact, that’s what we’ve asked for.”
“Mostly what I would term that’s been happening over the last six to nine months … is our educational efforts,” Mikkelsen said.
Mikkelsen said coalition members have heard technical presentations on water quality, fish disease, as well as the needs of agriculture and the needs of fish, including on Klamath Basin suckers.
“All of the tribal nations have made presentations, all of the irrigator interests across the Basin, from the Scott and Shasta watersheds all the way to the Upper Klamath Lake tributaries, including the Project irrigators, have made presentations,” Mikkelsen said.
The Klamath Tribes are also participating. (In past sessions they were not at the table due to friction between the Tribes and Mikkelsen).
Congressional delegations representatives have been on hand at coalition meetings as well.
“We have not requested congressional funding nor are are there any plans right now to do so until we’ve got something more concrete to take to Congress,” Mikkelsen said.
Mikkelsen said he will be returning to Medford or Redding for a coalition meeting in October, with dates to be determined.
“We evaluate this on a meeting by meeting basis, and we will see what is in front of us in October and then respond at that time of further meeting scheduling,” Mikkelsen said. “If it is warranted, I am always available to come back to the Basin.
“We’ve been having these meetings in Medford simply because of travel constraints for all the rest of the parties.”