Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Klamath County Commissioner,
Recently there has been criticism of the Klamath County Board of Commissioners for a letter they wrote on November 8, 2001, supporting the proposed Peoples Energy Resource’s California Oregon Border (COB) electric generation facility. That letter was written in support of the first COB proposal, which included, as a byproduct of the project, putting several thousand acre-feet of water a year into the Lost River.
The first COB proposal was presented to the Board of Commissioners shortly after the devastating Federal regulatory drought during the summer of 2001. At the time, the idea of being able to tap a new deep aquifer to put additional water into the Lost River, which would have benefited agriculture, seemed good to me, and I did sign the letter. From that point on I heard little or nothing about the COB project until several weeks ago when Mr. Rob Trotta made another presentation to the Board of Commissioners.
The second COB proposal is entirely different from the first one. In this proposal the COB project is a consumer of several thousand acre-feet of water annually,
Steve West’s COB facility OP-ED page 2.
and does not put any water back into the Lost River. Instead the project evaporates its cooling water into the atmosphere. This is the COB proposal that is currently before the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council for a permit.
Just a couple of weeks ago Mr. Trotta announced yet a third proposal, which would make the COB project air-cooled and dramatically reduce the project’s demand for water. I asked Mr. Trotta if this third proposal was in fact his firm’s final proposal, and he said that he could not guarantee that it was the final proposal. It is also my understanding that to date, Peoples Energy Resource has not submitted this third proposal to the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council for a permit.
During my six and one-half years as a Klamath County Commissioner, I have tried to build the reputation of someone who will listen to all sides of an issue. Doing that means that on occasion, I will change my mind after I have learned more about an issue. I have carefully reviewed all three of the COB proposals’ positive and negative impacts to the people of Klamath County.
Peoples Energy Resources, through their consultant KPMG, has estimated that "the economic impact of construction and operation of the COB Energy Facility is estimated to be $469 million over the first five years and $575 million over the entire 33-year construction and operating period." In the spirit of the old joke about the magnitude of money, "a million dollars here and a million dollars there and pretty soon you are talking about real money". Most would agree that $575 million is real money. Most Klamath County residents would also agree that our local economy could use some help. But there is no such thing as a free lunch, so at what cost will this estimated $575 million come into our local economy?
Initially, it is the people in Bonanza area who will be most significantly impacted. They will pay the price of having their rural agricultural community significantly disrupted by the construction and operation of this industrial project and its 7 miles of 500KV transmission lines. They may suffer significant negative impacts to their irrigation and domestic water wells depending on which if any COB proposal actually gets permitted and built.
It is interesting to note that according to the Herald and News both the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce and Klamath County Economic Development Association (KCEDA) have endorsed the third COB proposal. I wonder how many of the members of those two entities, who voted to support the project, live anywhere near the proposed site? Ultimately, I believe that all the residents of Klamath County will pay the cost of lost agricultural land that is zoned Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) when it is used for industrial purposes.
I am not a stranger to electric generation facilities, having spent twelve years working for an investor owned utility. These types of facilities are necessary for
Steve West’s COB facility OP-ED page 3.
sustainable economic growth. One has only to look at the situation California finds itself in by growing without building electric generation to support the growth. If designed well and sited appropriately, these types of facilities can bring about many positives for a community.
A good example of a well-designed and appropriately sited electric generation facilities is the City of Klamath Falls Co-Generation Plant. This plant was sited in a very appropriate industrial area that was zoned for industrial development. The plant is also innovative in the way it is using sewer effluent for plant cooling, addressing a significant problem of wastewater disposal for the City. One problem however, with the City of Klamath Falls Co-Generation Plant has been the over-promising of financial benefits by enthusiastic supporters. The electric generation business is volatile by nature and there will be up times and down times. Over time, the City of Klamath Falls’ project should make money and benefit the citizens.
So with all that, where do I, Steve West, Klamath County Commissioner, stand on the proposed COB project? Based on the project proposal as I understand it and based on the project’s proposed location, I am opposed to the COB project. I believe that anyway you look at this project it is an industrial land use and
therefore should be sited on industrial zoned land, not EFU zoned land. This is the same argument I made in voting against Masami Foods’ application to site an industrial plant on EFU zoned land. Industrial use, be it a hog factory or an electric generation facility is not an appropriate use for land zoned EFU.
I also do not support the idea of using ground water or surface water in an industrial process on land that is zoned EFU. I believe that this is especially true when no professional geologist or hydrologist is willing to guarantee that the deep aquifer is not connected to the shallow aquifer on which homes, farms, and ranches in the vicinity of the proposed project currently depend.
Am I opposed to the siting of an electric generation facility anywhere in Klamath County? No. I would be happy to entertain the idea of a facility that was proposed to be sited on Industrial zoned land and was supported by the people who are going to be directly impacted by it. Ultimately however, the authority to site the COB project or any electric generation facilities lies with the Oregon Energy Facilities Siting Council. I hope that they are listening to the people who are actually impacted. Thank you for taking the time to consider my opinion.
Page Updated: Saturday February 25, 2012 05:26 AM Pacific
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