Basin water issues take national stage

Herald and News – by Holly Dillemuth

President Donald Trump mentioned the Klamath Reclamation Project on Friday during a signing of an executive memo slated to expedite a joint-biological opinion, integral to water availability in the Klamath Basin.

A joint-biological opinion that acts as a guiding document for environmental regulations in the Klamath Basin will likely be expedited for completion by August 2019, as result of an executive memo signed by President Trump in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“The Klamath Irrigation Project (also known as the Klamath Reclamation Project) in Oregon and the Columbia River Basin in Washington, all of these states benefit in terms of jobs, terms of the environment,” Trump said. “… Together we rebuild our water infrastructure.”

In the memo, President Trump is directing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to do the following:

  • Streamline regulatory processes and remove unnecessary burdens.
  • Develop a timeline for completing compliance requirements for major water projects.
  • Responsibly expedite ongoing environmental reviews.
  • Convene water experts and resource managers to develop an action plan for improving seasonal forecasts of water availability.
  • Expand the use of technologies to improve the delivery of water and power.
  • Consider the laws of local operators during hydroelectric re-licensing proceedings.

“We’re also speaking to the EPA,” Trump told reporters in the Arizona news conference, while flanked by congressional leaders from the Central Valley in California.

“The big problem was the federal approvals,” Trump added. “They were very ungettable and now, they are very gettable.”

The memo is slated to reduce regulatory burdens on parties and to promote efficient environmental reviews of water access in the West.

Trump added that the contents of the memo will “make our communities more beautiful places to live, and work, and grow and make them so environmentally incredible.

He also called the memo “great for the farmers, great for the people, great for recreation, great for everything you can think of.”

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, expressed excitement about the memo and it’s impact on water in the Basin and across the West.

Keppen, based out of the Klamath Falls area, served as executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association from 2001 to 2005, and has served in his current role with the alliance since 2005.

Keppen described how the president’s memo will streamline the process of completing a biological opinion, how it will better help coordinate agencies, and set strict timelines.

“One of the things that their doing, not just in Klamath but also in the Columbia Basin, and in California’s Central Valley Project, is they’re making the Interior Department sort of a go-to group on biological opinions that involve multiple agencies,” Keppen told the Herald and News via telephone.

Under the memo, the Department of the Interior would be assisted in the biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFS). The process to reconsultate the opinion started in 2016.

“By having Interior be the point agency, it should make the process go quite a bit quicker as opposed to the current situation where you have these opinions being developed in different offices, sometimes in different states in the Klamath situation.

“It’s pretty encouraging it applies westwide,” Keppen added.

The actions outlined in the memo, Keppen said, have the ability to add flexibility for farmers to deliver water to their customers as well as to ensure enough time for a “robust” environmental review to ensure compliance with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

“It gets an action plan in place, it provides certainty to everybody that’s dictated by it,” Keppen said.

“When you have an expedited regulatory process, it just provides better certainty for the farmers who need water.”

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