Reflections on Last Week’s Visit by Secretary Bernhardt and Commissioner Burman
By Tricia Hill, President, Klamath Water Users Association
When we learned that Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman would both be in town on July 9, my first thought was that there was not much advance notice, and I would be cancelling a lot of things that day. My second thought was a surge of pride for our community’s peaceful and powerful gathering on May 29, at the Shut Down & Fed Up Rally. Our voices were heard.
As President of Klamath Water Users Association, I had the privilege of speaking to these officials, both of whom are President Trump’s appointees. As few things seem pretty clear.
First, these people do not make hollow promises. They will digest information they gathered, and make decisions only based on fact and law. Second, they listen, whether it is to John Crawford talking about real-world data, attorneys talking about law, or farmers or mint distillers talking about their operations.
Will it lead to something? I asked the same question after the May 29 rally. That worked out; it brought us attention we critically needed, and a ray of hope.
There are no gimmicks or magic bullets. Issues regarding water supply are more complicated than we wish they were. Even though we need change fast, having a fair hearing by an engaged Administration is a first step and I am optimistic.
We will follow through and pursue meaningful, durable progress on critical fronts. We will also continue to engage with our partners in the entire basin, in the interest of fish and farms, and with key members of our congressional delegation, who check partisanship at the door when dealing with Klamath Basin issues.
KWUAWashingon D.C. Representatives’ Report
The Ferguson Group reports that Senior Trump Administration officials and the Oregon/California congressional delegations have continued to work closely with KWUA leadership to identify remedies to address the water shortage crisis the Klamath Project is facing this year.
Most recently, the Senate passed legislation strongly supported by the congressional delegation that would amend the law to ensure the Bureau of Reclamation has the authority to enter contracts with the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency to utilize funds for direct water banking including groundwater substitution and agreements for non-irrigation in certain years. The goal is for the bill to now be taken up and passed by the House in late July and signed into law. Also, for this year, work continues on efforts to obtain relief through the Department of Agriculture, with Senator Merkley energized and very active and supported by Senator Wyden and Representatives Walden and La Malfa.
Regarding COVID-19 relief legislation, the Senate is expected to take up its version of a COVID relief bill, which at a minimum is expected to include some element of liability protection for companies and others impacted by COVID, sometime before Congress leaves for its summer break in August. The House passed its $3 trillion version, the “Moving Forward Act,” or H.R. 2 earlier this month.
The House Appropriations Committee has reported its version of the FY 2021 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill, which includes funding for the Bureau of Reclamation ($1.7 billion) and the Army Corps of Engineers ($7.6 billion). The Energy and Water Development bill, along with several other agency appropriations bills, are expected to pass the House by the end of the month. Action in the Senate is currently unclear. Regardless of how each chamber proceeds, we expect that Congress will need to pass a temporary continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open after the end of the fiscal year on September 30 as we do not expect most, if any, FY 2021 spending bills to be enacted into law by that time.
Regarding infrastructure, the House has released its version of a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) which authorizes Army Corps of Engineers projects and includes several provisions addressing climate change. A vote on WRDA is expected sometime prior to the August congressional recess. Also, Senate Floor action on bipartisan transportation and water legislation may be taken up before the August recess.
The Trump Administration has released its rewrite of regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The plan is intended to modernize and speed up the environmental review for major projects like bridges, highways, water infrastructure and pipelines.
· Check lake levels and snowpack on our website under “Water Data”
· Track current issues affecting water supplies under our “Press Releases”
· Find District Notifications
And much more, all on our website WWW.KWUA.ORG
What has KWUA been working on…
KWUA’s Board of Directors strives to keep member districts and their patrons and other interested parties informed. Board members help with the dissemination of information received at our monthly Board meetings, and staff produces a monthly newsletter.
The KWUA Board convened on July 8, 2020. Below is a recap of ongoing activities. If you would like more in‑depth information, we encourage you to contact your respective district board member, listed under Member Districts.
Executive Director Report
Drought Response Agency Funding.
The KWUA board has received periodic email updates from Paul Simmons, Executive Director, related to the status of funding efforts for the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (DRA). Under its current contract with Reclamation, the DRA can potentially earn $8.3 million that it can use to operate its programs. As of July 8, the DRA had invoiced Reclamation approximately $4.0 million that is expected to be paid; it is not yet known whether the DRA will be able to earn all the $8.3 million contract amount.
Work continues in Washington to secure additional funding through USDA. It is complicated logistically and politically; Congress will need to take action, hopefully as part of a legislative vehicle before the August recess.
Additionally, in order for DRA to be able to conduct a water users’ mitigation program (WUMP) similar to past years, there is need for a technical legislative “fix” to legislation that passed in late 2018. The Senate passed such legislation on July 15, and we hope for action in the House after members return from the July recess.
Reinitiated ESA Consultation Process. Presently, Reclamation’s Interim Operations Plan developed in late March is anticipated to be in effect through the end of the 2022 irrigation season. The agencies are moving forward in earnest with reinitiated ESA consultation and there will be further coordination. KWUA sent a letter on June 30 to Reclamation that reiterates key regulatory and legal/legal policy issues that are critical and under review. KWUA also sent a July 6 memorandum to Reclamation identifying priority science issues, as a follow-up to a video conference with Reclamation that occurred June 25. Paul believes the appearance on the scene of Dr. David Raff from Reclamation’s Denver Technical Services Center for the science issues is a good sign, and this development is significantly attributable to focused attention from the Commissioner’s office.
In 2017, KWUA and various member districts entered a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Reclamation to define water users’ roles and participation in the reinitiated consultation process for the Klamath Project. The board has been queried as to whether any modifications or updates are necessary, and a few comments have been received. The board directed Paul to send the MOU with comments received to member districts’ attorneys and arrange a call for all to discuss whether to re-open negotiation of any part of the MOU. Paul is to report back at the August meeting.
Recommendations Regarding Additional Scientific Expertise.
Paul Simmons submitted a memorandum to the board intended to help the board think through issues related to securing additional scientific expertise, including forums (ESA consultation, adjudication), where such expertise is useful. The board directed Mark Johnson to follow-up with the Science Committee and districts’ attorneys, and make recommendations.
Oregon Public Utilities Commission Cases.
KWUA is an intervenor in two cases at the Oregon Public Utilities Commission that will affect future costs for irrigation pumping under Schedule 41, Pacific Power’s retail tariff for Oregon irrigation customers. The board approved entering into a settlement in the case that involves the Transition Adjustment Mechanism, which is relevant to all Pacific Power customers. Under this settlement, 2021 rates will be less than they would otherwise be. However, an overall significant increase may occur, for 2021 and beyond, as a result of the other case, the “general rate case.” Settlement discussions are occurring in that case.
Deputy Director Report
SIS.bio Water Quality Improvement Study Presentation. Deputy Director Mark Johnson prepared a written report regarding a proposed pilot study to improve water quality on Lake Ewauna, and summarized his conclusions. Mark had attended a presentation at the Klamath County Economic Development Association where a consulting firm described a process they have used in Australia and in the eastern U.S. It involves oxygenation plus the introduction of an enzyme to catalyze biological processes that take up nutrients. The board had several questions about how the project works, particularly how phosphorus is actually removed. There are details yet to be known. Mark’s recommendation is to stay engaged and support this study. If the study is a success, it may be expanded to Upper Klamath Lake. The consultants are currently collecting preliminary water quality and sediment data from Lake Ewauna and Upper Klamath Lake.
Coalition of the Willing Action Document.
The next Coalition meeting will be on July 22. Following last month’s board meeting, staff sent out a proposed statement of position on the action document, but concerns were expressed. After discussion, the board approved a statement supporting continued participation while reserving concerns regarding some past restoration processes and the overall regulatory approach to the Klamath Project.
In the Know
- Does your farm operation need a copy of the letter from the Department of the Interior to the USDA/Risk Management Agency related to drought and crop insurance? You can access that letter on our website under “2020 Drought Opportunities:” www.kwua.org
- KWUA offers notary services at no cost. Chelsea Shearer is a certified Notary Public and KWUA offers her notary services free to all members and patrons of member districts. To schedule an appointment with Chelsea, call the office at 541-883-6100.
- KWUA offers meeting room facilities for member districts, Monday–Friday, 8 am- 5 pm, based on availability. There will be two meeting room spaces available. To schedule a meeting, call the office at 541-883-6100.
- As of July 16, 2020, there was approximately 64,491 acre-feet of Project Supply from Upper Klamath Lake remaining assuming an allocation of 140,000 acre-feet.
- The projections improved since June and the Upper Klamath Lake elevation was above 4140.0 feet above sea level for mid-July thanks to the diligence by the district managers in making this possible.
- It also looks likely that Upper Klamath Lake will be above elevation 4138.0 at the end of September.
District managers have been doing an exceptional job monitoring diversions and implementing conservation measures to make the small amount of water go as far as possible. With that said, we are looking at hot temperatures for the next few weeks and irrigators will need to work closely with their respective districts so we can make it through the end of September.