Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
REGION 8: Klamath Agreements Are Special Milestone For Pacific Southwest Region
California-Nevada Offices , March 12, 2010
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Secretary Salazar signs the Klamath Agreements on Feb. 18, 2010. The Service played a years-long role in supporting local Klamath Stakeholders in finding local solutions to Klamath Basin water-related conflicts. (Photo: Tami A. Heilemann-DOI)
Secretary Salazar signs the Klamath Agreements on Feb. 18, 2010. The Service played a years-long role in supporting local Klamath Stakeholders in finding local solutions to Klamath Basin water-related conflicts. (Photo: Tami A. Heilemann-DOI) - Photo Credit: n/a
More than 500 people assembled inside the Capitol Rotunda in Salem, Ore to watch the historic signing of the Klamath Agreements. (photo: USFWS)
More than 500 people assembled inside the Capitol Rotunda in Salem, Ore to watch the historic signing of the Klamath Agreements. (photo: USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a

by Matt Baun and Alex Pitts
More than 500 people jammed themselves inside the Oregon Capitol building lin Salem in February to witness the signing of a pair of agreements that will, in the words of Oregon Governor Ted Kulongowski, “save the wonderful Klamath Basin.”  

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, also on hand for the signing ceremony, noted that the news of this day would extend far beyond the standing-room-only, marble-walled venue under the rotunda.  

"The eyes of the nation, the eyes of the world, are on the Klamath," Salazar proclaimed.

Salazar noted that if these agreements move forward (they require Congressional and state action), the result would be the largest river restoration project in American history, which would include the removal of four Klamath River dams (which, in itself, would constitute the largest dam removal effort in history).

The Klamath agreements are about much more than river restoration alone. As the Oregon Governor stated they are about saving the Klamath basin.  That means providing stability and security for farmers and ranchers, Tribes, commercial fisherman and recreation users.  The agreements also play an important role in providing more water to the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges, which is considered by many to be among the most important refuges for migratory birds in the world.    

The signing of the Klamath Agreements was especially meaningful to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest Region, and the four Service offices in the Klamath Basin, which have long supported the efforts of these stakeholders. 

The Service has a huge presence in the Klamath Basin, with four offices – Arcata FWO, Yreka FWO and the Klamath Falls FWO.  There are also six national wildlife refuges that make up the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Each of these offices and its many employees contributed in some way to the Klamath Agreements over the years.  The Service was represented at the signing ceremony by Ren Lohoefener, Regional Director for the Pacific Southwest Region.  Joining Lohoefener were some of the members of the Service’s Klamath team including, Alex Pitts and David Diamond of the Regional Office, Phil Detrich, Darla Eastman, and Matt Baun of the Yreka FWO, and Laurie Sada of the Klamath Falls FWO.  Former Regional Director Steve Thompson, who for several years was the Department’s lead negotiator for these agreements, also attended the signing ceremony.

Thompson played an important early role for the Service when Klamath irrigation water was curtailed.  He played a key role in encouraging some of the Klamath stakeholders to find common ground and supported a process that attempted to help local stakeholders find local solutions (see sidebar). 

The Service’s role in the Klamath Agreements was also shaped by PacifiCorp’s relicensing process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  The Service, along with NOAA Fisheries, stated that if PacifiCorp’s license was to be renewed for another 30 or 50 years, the company would have to install fishways to allow salmon and other fish access to more than 300 miles of habitat above the dams.

The Service continued to meet with PacifiCorp and the various stakeholders numerous times between 2005 and 2010.  It was under Thompson’s direction that the Service decided to host and sponsor a number of stakeholder meetings.  The challenge was clear: can this stakeholder group work together; can they agree on functional, local solutions to the Klamath water conflicts?

To help address this challenge, and to really try to move things forward, the Service hired Portland-based facilitator Ed Sheets.  Sheets had just recently facilitated a challenging settlement agreement on the Columbia River. 

Phil Detrich, who attended all of these stakeholder meetings and coordinated Klamath issues for the Regional office, until his retirement last month, said that Sheets brought a tremendous amount of order and discipline to the negotiations.   Detrich said Sheets’ role was crucial in getting the diverse stakeholder groups to start putting words onto paper, and ultimately, in the form of a proposed agreement. 

By January 2008, the stakeholders agreed to release a draft Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA).  However, the KBRA also made dam removal a sticking point.  PacifiCorp was not involved in writing the KBRA and did not want to be a party to this agreement.

Talks continued between PacifiCorp and the stakeholder group but it wasn’t until a May 2008 that a real breakthrough occurred.  Michael Bogert, who was also at the signing ceremony in Salem, was a top aide to then-Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in the previous administration. Bogert asked top-level officials from DOI, Oregon, California and PacifiCorp to attend a meeting at the Service’s National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  This meeting proved to be the turning point in the negotiations and laid the foundation for moving forward. 

Kempthorne and Bogert understood the passions of the Klamath Water Wars of 2001 and 2002 still ran deep.  In the Klamath negotiations with PacifiCorp, they saw the remarkable progress that the stakeholders made in working together and they saw an opportunity for a more permanent solution to the Klamath issues. They asked PacifiCorp if they could accept a dam removal option if it made sense as a business decision.  

PacifiCorp indicated that they were willing to listen and negotiate on that point as long as decisions about dam removal would be made on science, and not politics.  PacifiCorp also wanted a deal that protected their customers from liability and costly rate hikes. 

Still, PacifiCorp did not wish to be a part of the KBRA so they asked that there be two agreements. After the meeting in Shepherdstown, the utility negotiated with California, Oregon and the Department of the Interior.  Eventually, a delegation of stakeholders joined these negotiations.  By November 2008, the four parties (U.S., California, Oregon and PacifiCorp) announced that they had arrived at an Agreement in Principle (AIP) that for the first time endorsed a process that paved the way for the potential removal of the Klamath River dams. 

November 2008 also brought the election of a new president, and a new administration. So the path was set; but practically speaking, further negotiations would have to wait until the new President and a new cabinet was seated. 

After the inauguration in January 2009, the various settlement parties sought out Secretary Salazar as soon as they possibly could to make their case.  In their eyes, they had something special with the KBRA and the AIP, which would eventually become one of the Klamath Agreements signed last month.  

In his remarks, Salazar recounted his initial meeting with the Klamath stakeholders in the spring of 2009.

“I told you two things when we first met, when you came to my office last spring and asked me to support your good work,” Salazar stated.

“I told you that the diverse interests I saw before me – people who had not sat at a table together before – told me much of what I needed to know about your plans to restore the Klamath Basin.  I asked you to stick together because all of you together are strong.

“And then I told you that “failure is not an option.”

Salazar at the initial meeting gave the stakeholders what they were looking for: support. He also gave them specific deadlines to finish work as soon as possible.  

At the ceremony in Salem, Salazar put his name on the final product.


An End to the Klamath Water War?

The Klamath Basin is synonymous with water-related conflicts.  In 2001, a full-blown ‘Western water war” unfolded as irrigation deliveries to local farms and ranches ceased in order to benefit endangered suckers and threatened salmon.  Irrigation deliveries were reduced by about 90 percent.  This was done by turning off the headgates that allow irrigation water to begin its journey to the fields.  Farmers and ranchers blamed the Endangered Species Act, and organized large-scale protests that accused the federal government of favoring fish over people.   Protestors, at one point, were able to turn the water back on by forcing their way through a chain link fence.  Federal agents were eventually called in. 

The following spring, irrigation deliveries resumed. Fields and ranches received water; and those who worked the land, could do so once again.  Another disaster was looming, however.  This time it would be fisherman and Native Tribes who were the victims.   In late summer 2002, tens of thousands of migrating adult salmon died in the lower Klamath River as they were making their way to their spawning grounds. 

In-river conditions were proved unfavorable to salmon that year and many people blamed the Upper Basin farmers and ranchers for taking ‘too much’ water. 

The battle lines had been drawn and all the ingredients to a long-term, intractable water war were evident.  It looked like division and conflict would be a permanent feature of the entire Klamath landscape.  

A little less than eight years later, the tribes, fisherman, farmers and ranchers were in Salem to sign a pair of agreements.  They stood side by side in support of a proposed solution – the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement – that they themselves had created through years of negotiations.  The atmosphere in the Klamath Basin has changed to one of hope and unity. 

The Klamath Agreements

Klamath Basin stakeholders spent over five years trying to develop a settlement agreement that could lead to the largest river restoration project in history, which includes the potential removal of four privately owned hydroelectric dams on the mainstem Klamath River.  The agreements will also provide security for farmers who rely on Klamath water for irrigation.  The two agreements call on the Secretary of the Interior to make a determination of whether removal of the four dams: 1) will advance restoration of Klamath fisheries; and 2) is in the public interest, which includes but is not limited to the consideration of potential impacts on affected local communities and tribes. Before the Secretarial Determination can be made, however, the Department must undertake a thorough review of the relevant science as well as conduct a robust environmental analysis as required by National Environmental Policy Act.  A multi-agency team of federal scientists will be working to collect scientific information over the next several months. 

Service Played Key Role in Klamath Agreements

Former Director Steve Thompson offered support and steady leadership early on

Steve Thompson pin-points his involvements in the Klamath conflict to a single phone call.  He was serving as Refuge Chief in Atlanta and happened to be in Washington, D.C. for meetings when his cell phone rang, and the voice on the other end summoned him upstairs.  It was the Secretary’s office.

“They sat me down and said ‘can you help the people and the refuges in the Klamath Basin?’”

Thompson said he wasn’t sure but he would try.  He would end up serving for several years as one of the lead negotiators for the Interior Department on what was to become the Klamath Agreements.  

Thompson relocated to Sacramento and served as director of the regional office there.  Soon, Thompson paid a series of visits to the Klamath Basin. It was 2001 and the irrigation water had already been curtailed. 

“It was so depressing,” Thompson said of his initial visits to the Basin.  “You had farmers with tears running down their cheeks talking to you about not knowing whether their farms would survive, or if they’d be able to pass their livelihoods on to their kids. It was a very difficult time.”

The negotiations that resulted in the Klamath Agreements being signed in February 2010 were not easy and, at times, stood at a standstill.  Asked what motivated him to keep supporting the Klamath stakeholders, Thompson describes an image that was etched upon his mind.

 “When I saw people who looked like my grandparents coming over the headgates in civil disobedience, I became totally convinced that whatever we were doing [at the time] was not going work – not for the people or for the resource.”

Thompson then spent a lot of time in the Klamath Basin just listening to Klamath Basin farmers and tribes.   As he was trying to understand stakeholders’ positions and their ideas for improving how the federal government works in the Basin, Thompson thought he saw a slight opening.

During one meeting at the Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office, he posed a question to the local tribal leaders: who is the most influential group in the Klamath Basin?  The tribes said they were.

Thompson then asked the tribal leaders, who the second most influential group was?  The farmers.  

“Well,” Thompson inquired, “how powerful would it be if you and the farmers got together and agreed on some common ground?”

The tribes said the farmers would never meet with them.

Thompson then met in Klamath Falls with a group of farmers and posed the same questions to them:

He asked the farmers, who the most influential group in the Klamath Basin?  The farmers.   Who was the second-most influential group?  The tribes.

Thompson then asked if the irrigators would be willing to sit down with the Tribes to “see if you don’t have a whole bunch of common ground, because in listening to both parties, I think you do.”

The farmers said the tribes would never meet with them.

After several more meetings with various stakeholder groups, the farmers and tribes eventually sat down.  Troy Fletcher, one of the Yurok negotiators, and Greg Addington, a representative of the Klamath Water Users Association put their differences aside came and the first real seeds of what would eventually become the Klamath Agreements were sown. 

Progress was slow.  Thompson and his superiors at the Department were convinced that the only hope was to let the tribes and farmers find ‘functional solutions’ that worked for the local communities.

“For a long time we didn’t have a facilitator,” Thompson said.  “By default, I ended up being facilitator, and one of the parties actually fired me. There were a lot of ups and downs.”

The Service and the Department, realizing that future years would bring more conflict over scarce water resources, made the decision that supporting the stakeholders in this process was the best path forward.  

Eventually, more parties came to the table and real solutions began to surface. Soon an actual negotiation table started to take shape and through years of negotiations a measure of unity between former warring factions emerged.

The Service also hired an accomplished facilitator – Ed Sheets – to help with the negotiations and a draft of agreement began to take shape.  

While he we was supporting the efforts of local stakeholders, Thompson also insisted that the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges be part of the mix. 

“We just started thinking about it as one basin, instead of fish vs. farmers.  We felt we could improve the basin by improving some of the marshes both on private property and on the refuges.”

By January 2008, this group, to the surprise of many on the outside, had what appeared to be an agreement full of local solutions that settled many water-related conflicts between Tribes, farmers, fisherman and conservation groups.  It was called the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA).

In time, PacifiCorp started their own negotiation table with the feds, Oregon and California. By  September 2009, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement was released.  The KBRA was then revised and updated for consistency with its companion agreement. On February 18, 2010, both agreements were signed and everyone celebrated the occasion.

Farmers and tribal leaders were there, too.  As someone noted that day in the Capitol, they no longer stood toe-to-toe, but rather hip-to-hip. 



Contact Info: Matt Baun, 530-841-3119, matt_baun@fws.gov
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