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Klamath Project irrigators could be granted new federal status

An amendment that guarantees Klamath Project water users the ability to participate in environmental regulation was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week.

The amendment was proposed by by U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., to help protect Klamath Project water users in Oregon and California. It passed the House as part of H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act.

According to a news release, the amendment gives Project water users “applicant status,” ensuring they are included in Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultations that affect Project water operations.

Although the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) has “treated the users ‘in a manner similar to applicants’ since the 1990s, it has not granted them the protections and input the full applicant status would provide,” the release said.

Klamath Project contractors have existing water and land-use contracts with the BOR, and they are directly affected by the agency’s consultations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service — two agencies responsible for upholding protections for species, such as coho salmon and Lost River and shortnose suckers, federally listed under the ESA.

Walden said passing the amendment will formalize a practice that already occurs and ensure that Klamath Project contractors can participate in future ESA consultation.

“Klamath Project irrigators are arguably the parties that are most affected by these consultations, yet over the years, we sometimes find ourselves on the outside looking in as our future is decided by federal agencies,” said Rob Unruh, president of the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA).

According to a KWUA news release, parties designated as applicants have procedural rights, including the ability to comment on and to contribute information throughout the ESA consultation process. Non-applicants, which is what Project stakeholders are currently considered, do not have assurances that their information, comments or proposed alternatives will be considered by agencies developing ESA documents.

“We appreciate the efforts of (Reps.) Walden and LaMalfa to assure we have a seat at the table,” said Dave Cacka, president of the Klamath Irrigation District. “These consultations directly affect our ability to farm and it’s important to have our input officially recognized.”

H.R. 2898 now goes before the U.S. Senate.