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'Fish and chips' 

After two years of sometimes tense discussion, the 26 disparate stakeholders participating in the Klamath Basin settlement talks released a proposed agreement Tuesday that they say provides for the diverse needs of irrigators, fishermen and Indian tribes.

Craig Tucker of the Karuk Tribe is calling the Proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement a "fish and chips settlement." That's because the agreement ensures that sustainable agriculture will continue in the Upper Basin by providing for reliable allocations of water to the region's farmers. At the same time, it lays out a comprehensive program to restore fish populations in the Klamath River to levels the settlement group says will be sufficient for tribal, recreational and commercial fisheries.

The agreement also includes a program to stabilize energy costs for farmers, ranchers and the two national wildlife refuges in the Upper Basin if and when the river's four lower dams are removed. But that will depend on the outcome of ongoing negotiations between the settlement group and PacifiCorp, the Portland-based utility that owns and operates the dams. Although that process, known as the Hydropower Agreement, is separate from the Proposed Agreement, the settlement group believes that a basin-wide solution must include both in order to succeed.

"This agreement only works with removal of four dams," said Troy Fletcher of the Yurok Tribe in a Tuesday afternoon press conference call.

While a majority of the stakeholders seem to be in concert now, one long-time participant -- the Hoopa Valley Tribe -- was noticeably absent from Tuesday's conference call. But the tribe did lob a news release explaining its rejection of the draft agreement.

In it, Hoopa Valley Tribe Chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall called the agreement "an old West irrigation deal" with "guarantees for irrigators, empty promises for the Indians." He said it "makes the right to divert water for irrigation the top priority, trumping salmon water needs and the best available science on the river."

Specifically, the tribe is concerned that while the agreement specifies goals for water diversions to irrigators, it does not set specific water flows for fish. It says the agreement "altogether ignores" two independent studies on river flows and salmon needs, as well as a Congress-backed report from the Natural Resources Council in November that recommended increased flows. Instead, the agreement allows for adaptive management and the development, over 10 years, of three plans: for restoration of the river system, reintroduction of salmon above Iron Gate Dam and establishment of a monitoring program.

Tom Schlosser, an attorney for the Hoopa Valley Tribe reached by telephone Tuesday afternoon, reiterated the tribe's concern about there being no set standards for fish restoration. For example, he said, in 1984 the Trinity Restoration Act set the goal that the fishery would be restored to conditions that existed before the Lewsiton and Trinity dams were built. In the Klamath agreement, however, he said, "all the guarantees are for the right to divert water [for irrigation], and the fish get whatever trickles down."

Despite its concerns, the tribe is not leaving the table, Schlosser said. It's good the draft is finally out for the public to see, he argued. Now comes the time for corrections.

But Chuck Bonham of Trout Unlimited said during the conference call that the agreement's method of determining flows for fish makes sense. "Think about the logic of the flow part," he said. "In drier years, when there's less water, there'll be less diversion of water. In wet years, there'll be more diversion." Another stakeholder noted that the agreement, by tying in with the parallel agreement (still in the works) to remove four dams, will put more water in the river -- therefore, there'll be a bigger pie to divide than exists now.

Craig Tucker said specific restoration targets will be arrived at through the yet-to-be-developed monitoring plan and will incorporate new information emerging from the removal of the four dams. And, he said, "It is our view that the best available science is the science produced on the river" by the tribal biologists. "We don't need the NRC."

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Heidi Walters

Heidi Walters worked as a staff writer at the North Coast Journal from 2005 to 2015.

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