Klamath bills pass Senate committee

A settlement aimed at solving decades-old water conflicts in the Klamath Basin moved one step closer to becoming a reality Thursday.

The Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, Senate Bill 2379, passed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The vote was 17-5.

Officials hope the bill, which encompasses the Klamath Basin Restoration Act and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, and the Upper Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, will be approved by Congress before the legislative session ends in late December.

“I’m delighted that it came out of the committee,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. “To have the support of all the Democrats and five of the Republicans is a very strong bipartisan vote on a very complicated natural resource issue.”

The bill will have to pass the Republican-controlled House before it reaches the President’s desk.

SB 2379 authorizes the implementation of the three Klamath Basin water agreements, which strive to produce collaborative solutions for Klamath Basin water management.

The legislation is a cooperative water plan to protect fish and wildlife, while providing predictable water amounts to farmers and ranchers, according to Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who sponsored the bill.

“I think it is going to be a model for how to deal with contentious water issues around the country. It has been done with a direct spending score of zero, and it has been done with bipartisan support,” Wyden said.

Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry said the committee’s action is a positive step in efforts to move the legislation forward.

“It’s wonderful that it was such a show of bipartisan support,” Gentry said.

Matt Vickery, deputy director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said he is pleased that committee members recognized the Basin’s urgent water issues.

“We’re very encouraged by the committee’s response and anxious for the rest of the legislative process,” Vickery said.

Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she is committed to finding the $500 million in funding the bill requires over the next 10 years.

“Finding an extra $50 million a year is going to be hard,” Murkowski said.

Sen. Jeff Flake noted that the Hoopa Valley tribe of Northern California and members of the Intertribal Council of Arizona oppose the bill.

Merkley said with so little time left in this legislative session, he doesn’t believe the SB 2379 can pass the Senate as a standalone bill.

“My hope is we can get this into some other bill that’s moving in the final months of this legislature, get it in partnership with the House and get it to the president’s desk,” he said.

“Both Sen. Wyden and I are going to do everything in our power to try to create that moment. We have to get it done.”