By Brian Johnson
Yesterday, the United States Senate held a hearing on the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2014 (S. 2379). Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, one of the bill’s sponsors, proclaimed the legislation “a better way forward” and “a new model for managing our natural resources – collaboratively, based on local needs, rather than from a place of conflict, based on litigation and top-down management decisions.”
Trout Unlimited agrees –this bill has been built the right way, through negotiations between key stakeholders facilitated by Congress. It provides real hope for our hunting and fishing heritage in the Klamath Basin, and will really help people and businesses that depend on salmon and steelhead fishing and hunting for waterfowl in northern California and southern Oregon.
The Senate hearing was a welcome and significant step forward in the long process of resolving difficult water use and management issues in the Klamath River watershed, issues that Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon described as “challenges that virtually everybody thinks cannot be fixed.” These issues are directly linked to the ups-and-(mostly)-downs of salmon and steelhead runs in this iconic river, which historically was the third most productive river for these fish on the West Coast.
The Klamath Basin is as important for ducks, geese, and other waterfowl as it is for salmon and steelhead. The Basin’s wildlife refuges, including Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 as the nation's first waterfowl refuge), host an estimated 80 percent of Pacific Flyway waterfowl for fall and spring staging during their annual migrations.
S. 2379 implements key elements of the three formal agreements that have been reached in the Klamath Basin since 2010, for hydropower operations, water sharing, and habitat restoration. Under this legislation, steelhead and salmon will regain more than 400 miles of habitat, plus improved water quality and flows. Waterfowl will gain a more secure water supply for wetlands at critical times.
In the Klamath Basin, after decades of rotating crises that have hurt commercial fishermen, sport anglers, hunters, cattle ranchers, farmers, and Tribes, we all recognize now that none of us will get enough of what we want unless we work together. S. 2379 formalizes and honors the hard, collaborative work that has delivered the three Klamath agreements.
Trout Unlimited salutes Senator Wyden, Merkley, Feinstein and Boxer, and Governors Kitzhaber and Brown, for their leadership in bringing us “a new way forward” on the Klamath River. We strongly urge Congress to quickly pass this sensible, bipartisan, long-awaited legislation.
Link to the Senate subcommittee hearing on S. 2379, with archived video: http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2014/6/subcommittee-hearing-klamath-basin-water-recovery-and-economic-restoration-act-of-2014-s-r-2379.
Brian Johnson is California Director for Trout Unlimited. Photos courtesy of Craig Nielson/Shasta Trout