Remaining members of the Klamath Settlement Group are meeting in Sacramento this week. The group hopes to finalize drafting of the Water and Dam Deals it has been working on for the last couple of years and to release these documents for public review. The latest schedule released by the group calls for parties to sign the combined deals in mid-February. However, this group has missed deadlines many times before and these new deadlines may slip as well.
Much in these deals can be implemented immediately; some provisions are, in fact, already being implemented. But the more controversial provisions – including mandating a first call on water to irrigators, golf courses, lumber mills and other water users within the federal Klamath Project – are illegal under current law and therefore can only be accomplished via federal legislation. Other provisions – like granting Klamath Project Irrigators the right to “take” Bald eagles, Kuptu, Tsuam and other California “fully protected species” – are illegal under state law and thus require state legislation.
In a recent electronic town hall meeting, Congressman Mike Thompson indicated that he would carry legislation with an unidentified “Oregon congressman” to implement the Klamath Settlement Group’s Dam and Water Deals (see KlamBlog’s December 14th post). The newly formed Klamath Conservation Partners coalition, however, wants Mr. Thompson to consider all proposals – including the so-called “clean dam bill” approach – before drafting Klamath legislation.
Others have questioned the wisdom of making a special funding allocation for Klamath River Basin salmon restoration as proposed in the deals. In recent decades salmon restoration funding has been appropriated on a regional basis. A return to basin-by-basin salmon restoration funding could set off a political fight among restorationists from different basins over restoration funding. About 1/3rd of the nearly $1 billion taxpayer dollars called for in the Water Deal would be allocated to restoration; the remainder is subsidies to irrigators, tribes and counties. With record budget deficits expected again in 2010, the high cost of the deals could be an impediment to passing legislation to implement them.
Meanwhile, there is a major conflict within one of the tribes which has promoted the deals. At a November general council meeting, about 50 members of the Klamath Tribes voted to remove all but one member of the current tribal council. The following Monday a group of members tried to remove these folks physically from tribal offices in Chiloquin, Oregon. However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which oversees tribal government operations, has written a letter indicating that the removal action was illegal because proper procedures were not followed. There is another General Council meeting on January 9th at which dissidents may again try to remove Council members.
It is not known whether the conflict has anything to do with the proposed Water and Dam Deals or how a change in the tribal council make-up could impact the Tribe’s position on the deals. Comments on Chiloquin web sites indicate that the conflict is more about services, management of the Tribe’s casino and the manner in which payments are made to tribal members.
In tribal governments with the general council system all major actions of the tribe must be approved by a council in which all adult members have a vote. Among Klamath River Basin federally recognized tribes the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation also uses a general council system. The Karuk, Hoopa and Yurok Tribes operate on a system where the vote of representatives elected to a tribal council can make final decisions without the vote of the membership. Another Klamath River Basin native group - the Shasta Nation - is not federally recognized.
In other tribal news, traditional Yurok-Karuk ceremonial leader Chris Peters has requested an audience with the Yurok Tribal Council to discuss “significant and far reaching cultural and spiritual issues” associated with the Dam and Water Deals. A date for that audience has not been set.