Interior secretary will personally crank open Klamath Basin

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Norton to Release Needed Water

By JOHN ENDERS, Associated Press Writer

March 27, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton plans to personally crank open the headgates of the federal irrigation project in the Klamath Basin on Friday, federal officials said.

Irrigation water will flow for the first time since last summer when the headgates were closed to save water for endangered and threatened fish.

"We are pleased that we're beginning this irrigation season by providing water for the farmers," Norton said in a statement released by President Bush's Klamath Basin Federal Working Group.

Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman will join Norton. The officials are members of the Working Group that is trying to resolve competing interests of farmers, Indian tribes and conservationists.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service are reviewing biological assessments issued last year that led to a cutoff of water supplies to farmers.

Last summer, the agencies said continued water draw-down in a time of severe drought would harm endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

The decision to cut off water to about 1,000 Klamath area farmers led to bitter protests and a takeover at the headgates July 4. Last month, a National Academy of Sciences report said the government's biological assessments were flawed.

Abundant rain and mountain snows in the region this winter have given the government some breathing room in the conflict.

"There's going to be water for everybody this year," said Jeff McCracken, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the 95-year-old federal irrigation project.
 

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