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Sprague River flooding

Casey Cornils, left, and Philip Bordelon with the U.S. Forest Service in February mark a stake with a measurement of the Sprague River at 9.53 feet in Nimrod River County Park near the town Sprague River. The Klamath Tribes made a call for water on the Sprague and Williamson rivers and tributaries, and Upper Klamath Marsh last week.

Oregon Water Resources Department validated a call for water by the Klamath Tribes Thursday for water on the Sprague and Williamson rivers and tributaries, and Upper Klamath Marsh by making stream flow measurements, according to an informational resource issued by Tyler Martin, Klamath Falls watermaster.

Martin spent Monday visiting water right holders in affected drainage areas. Watermaster staff may be in the Williamson River area in coming days and weeks to check points of diversion, monitor and regulate water use, and speak with land owners.

The current call on water by the Tribes, which also extends to Wood River but has not been validated by the state as of press time, is for the protection of both the base and high habitat flows, according to the state’s news release.

Base flows

“There are two types of base flows, geologic and biologic,” said Diana Enright, an OWRD spokesperson.

“In this case, these are biologic base flows, which are estimated as a lower protective threshold that provide biologically necessary habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms.”

The Treaty of 1864 allows the Klamath Tribes to hunt, fish, trap and gather on the former reservation land, according to the state’s news release. The Tribes presented information and evidence during adjudication of their water rights in 2013 that flows occurring at certain intervals on the Williamson and Sprague rivers and their tributaries, are necessary to replenish the riparian habitat that supports the hunting, fishing and gathering treaty rights.

“This is the first time since our water rights were quantified and enforceable that we’ve had flood conditions like this that would warrant the call that we’re making,” said Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes.

“This is necessary for the health of the streams and riparian areas, important to restoring our fisheries.”

Flow claims

The Klamath Tribes have instream determined claims that provide for the protection of instream flows during low-flow periods (riparian habitat base flows), and for the Williamson and Sprague rivers and tributaries, for the protection of habitat high flows during spring runoff months.

The priority date for these instream determined claims is time immemorial, or senior to all other water rights.

The news release also states the determined water right claims allow the Tribes to provide for “healthy and productive” fish, animal and plant habitat.

State Rep. E. Werner Reschke issued a statement in response to the call on water.

“I’m very disappointed that this call has been initiated by the Klamath Tribes and validated by the Oregon Water Resources Department at a time when our rivers are literally running over their banks,” Reschke said in a statement. “This decision negatively impacts farmers and ranchers up and down the basin and defies conventional logic. Oregonians lose when we allow one group to exercise exorbitant control over the rights of others. The American way is collaboration and good neighbor relations, rather than overreaching exercise of power and rights. I encourage the Klamath Tribes to reconsider and to work together with their neighbors instead of causing strife.”

Community, fisheries

Gentry acknowledged the concern.

“I understand the concerns for the agricultural community, but there needs to be concerns for the status of our fisheries,” Gentry said. “Our fisheries should be just as important, and the stability of our fisheries as other economic needs in the Basin.”

Water users are encouraged to contact the local watermaster at 541-883-4182 with questions or to learn more. Updated water distribution materials are also available at on the OWRD’s website at