Chairman Bob Smith, Senator Gordon Smith Criticize Interior Department's Overly-Restrictive Klamath Water Use Plan

Mar 13, 1998

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congressman Bob Smith (R-Or), Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, and Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), called on the United States Department of the Interior (DOI), to create a more flexible plan to resolve long-term water issues facing Oregon's Klamath Basin.

In a March 12 letter to Patricia Beneke, DOI Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, the Oregon Congressmen criticized the DOI 1998 water plan for being too rigid and jeopardizing recent Klamath Basin success stories, such as the State of Oregon's alternative dispute resolution component of the Klamath Adjudication and the Bureau of Reclamation's water supply initiative. The State of Oregon has developed a collaborative system to expedite the Klamath Adjudication to resolve long-term water allocation issues, and the Bureau of Reclamation has begun an effort to add additional water storage to the Basin to alleviate water supply problems. The DOI plan threatens these efforts to stabilize the region by constricting water use during dry water years, potentially undermining successful collaborative efforts to work toward long-term solutions. The complete text of the Congressmen's letter to Beneke follows this release.

"The 1998 water operations plan recently released by DOI raises serious concerns about their commitment to cooperative endeavors in the Klamath Basin. The best way to solve complex problems like those facing us in southern Oregon is to work together towards a common goal, not set up a system that will select winners and losers," the Congressmen wrote.

"The Interior Department's latest water use plan is not the answer. We should keep working with the federal government to find a balance that recognizes the economic needs of southern Oregonians. This plan just doesn't get us there. It threatens our collaborative efforts and the Klamath Basin's agricultural community," Chairman Smith said.

"The Klamath Basin community has made significant inroads toward resolving difficult water rights problems in the region. A heavy hand from the federal government will only frustrate this progress. Water use in southern Oregon is too important to settle for what is at best a divisive issue," Senator Smith said.

Congress authorized the Klamath Project in 1905 to serve Klamath Basin farmers who needed water for agricultural production and to help build the local economy. The Bureau of Reclamation has led a water supply initiative in collaboration with the Klamath Project in response to water allocation shortfalls. In addition to these efforts, the State of Oregon developed an alternative dispute resolution process to expedite the Klamath Adjudication and help resolve the long-term water allocation debate.

Bob Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District - which includes most of eastern, southern, and central Oregon - in the U.S. House of Representatives. Gordon Smith represents Oregon in the U.S. Senate.