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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Doug Whitsett, President, Water for Life, Inc.

(541)882-1315 hildreth@internetcds.com

May 8, 2003

COB Energy Plant Use of Ground Water

By way of introduction, Water for Life, Inc. is a not for profit Oregon corporation whose more than 800 contributors consist primarily of farmers, ranchers, and businesses that support, and are supported by, farmers and ranchers. Our single mission and only purpose is to advocate for agricultural water rights. Since its inception in 1990, our organization has been involved with public education, agency administrative proceedings, and legislative efforts on behalf of agricultural water users in the Northwest. Our executive director, Brad Harper, is an accomplished water rights attorney whose counsel is well respected by many leaders in agriculture as well as many in the Oregon legislative assembly. Our Salem, Oregon office can be reached at (503)375-6003


We have two basic concerns regarding the proposed siting of a gas fired electricity generation plant by Peoples Energy Resources (COB) in the Langell Valley of Oregon. Our concerns are based in the apparent incomplete science utilized by COB and Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) to define an "isolated" aquifer, and in water right priority issues pursuant to the OWRD’s Proposed Final Order (PFO) issued for the use of ground water by the plant. Several geologists and hydrologists who are currently working on, or have knowledge of, ground water studies in the Langell Valley/Bonanza areas share some of our concerns. These scientists are employed both in the private and the public sectors.

Basic scientific questions regarding this alleged newly discovered "isolated deep" aquifer that have not been addressed in a public forum include:

  1. Definitive description of the recharge area. The estimated area alleged to recharge the deep aquifer appears to encompass virtually all of the high ground within about 50 miles to the North and East of the Langell Valley. If this estimate is correct, then where is the recharge area for the overlying more shallow volcanic water bearing zones located?
  2. Definitive description of the discharge area. The 1994 CH2MHILL report referenced by COB places the discharge into the Klamath River Canyon and the Klamath River above the Iron Gate Dam. No evidence has been made public that supports this contention, or contention of discharge in any other location.
  3. Definitive estimation of the volume of the alleged "separate and new aquifer" water source.
  4. Definitive estimation of the direction of flow of the "separate and new aquifer" water source.
  5. Oxygen and hydrogen isotope studies performed on the water of the alleged "deep" and of the "shallow" aquifer to determine both issues of source and isolation.
  6. Explanation of the source of anomalous concentrations of nitrogen in the alleged "deep aquifer". No nitrogen isotope studies have been made available to the public. The presence of nitrates in the alleged "deep and new aquifer" indicates its connection to surface waters and anthropogenic or animal wastes.
  7. Explanation of the nearly identical chemical solute signature of the alleged "deep aquifer" to that of Bonanza Big Springs which is the source of about 30% of the instream flow of the Lost River.
  8. Explanation of the recent reference to the year 1959 by COB’s Rob Trotta when the company was queried whether age determination of the water had been performed. Mr. Trotta intimated in public testimony to the Klamath County Commissioners on April 29, 2003 that the water in the alleged "deep and isolated aquifer" was older than 1959. That time represents the last year of nuclear atmospheric testing. It is our understanding that the only way this determination can be made is through isotope studies, which Mr. Trotta denies have been conducted by CH2M Hill for People’s Energy.
  9. Explanation of contradictory OWRD data that is alleged to suggest visible changes in monitored wells established in the shallow volcanic water bearing zones during an interruption in the COB 30-day pumping test of the "isolated deep aquifer".

If the proposed source of groundwater for the COB plant is in fact an isolated and previously untapped aquifer, Oregon water law provides for a first priority water right issued to the company under the "first in beneficial use first in right" doctrine. However, if the alleged "deep aquifer" is connected to the more shallow volcanic water bearing strata commonly accessed by existing irrigation wells in the near vicinity, the COB facility’s water right must have junior priority to the more than 30 irrigation wells that are already established in that connected aquifer system.

The OWRD’s PFO clearly states extensive mitigation requirements for any injury caused to the more shallow volcanic water bearing zones by COB’s pumping practices. This mitigation begs the question: if the aquifers are not separate, then they are one. If they are one, the irrigators with established wells and permits have first priority.

During the May 1, 2003 OWRD informational meeting at the Klamath County Fairgrounds, Klamath County Commissioner Steve West asked Catherine Van Horn if the Oregon Department of Energy was required to implement any of the extensive mitigation conditions included in the OWRD’s PFO. Her one word answer was "NO".

Finally, we are concerned that once permitted and constructed, this COB facility will be a permanent feature of our community regardless of actual injury to senior water right holders. To prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that changes in complex regional groundwater flow and availability are caused by a single well owned by a multi-billion dollar corporation appears unlikely. Oregon water law restricts injury to groundwater users to injury realized after full development of the aquifer. Full development means drilling deeper to access the bottom of the water bearing zones. The cost of pumping water increases significantly as well water column levels drop. At some real point in well water column level elevation the costs of using the ground water for agricultural purposes exceeds its benefits. At this point irrigators are forced by economic reality to discontinue their use of the groundwater resource.

They have no legal recourse because, by definition, they have not experienced "injury" because they remain able to access the groundwater resource even though its use is no longer economically viable. The potential net result is financial ruin, directly caused by an uncompensated taking of private property.





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