Dam deal still stokes
controversy, Critics from all
sides assail new deal on Klamath Basin water
Perkowski, Capital Press 11/20/08
The planned removal of four hydroelectric dams along the
Klamath River is a bitter pill to swallow for the basin's
Some farmers regard the plan as an unpleasant but ultimately
necessary remedy that will help heal divisions over the
competing water needs of farmers and fish.
Others say dam removal will only inflame the Klamath Basin's
ills over the long term.
"Common sense says, 'What are they thinking?'" said Tom
Mallams, a hay farmer and president of the Klamath
Off-Project Water Users, who opposes dam removal. "It's an
absolute disaster, the way they're trying to do this."
Though disassembling power infrastructure is not something
farmers in the region like to see, dam removal is a crucial
step in resolving the long-standing dispute between farmers,
tribes and conservationists, said Steve Kandra, a farmer and
board member of the Klamath Water Users Association.
"It's a milepost in the process, and we've still got a way
to go," he said. "We keep developing and fine-tuning the
Earlier this year, the Klamath Water Users Association
negotiated a settlement with tribes and conservationists,
known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, to end
legal battles over water rights in the region.
Removing dams was the key component of the agreement, but
that decision ultimately lies in the hands of PacifiCorp,
the utility that owns them.
Throughout the year, PacifiCorp negotiated with the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission about re-licensing the dams. At
the same time, the company discussed removing the structures
with the Department of the Interior.
On Nov. 13, PacifiCorp announced it had brokered a deal with
the Interior Department, as well as the states of Oregon and
California, to dismantle the dams and re-open the Klamath
River to fish passage by 2020.
Removal will be paid for with $200 million in surcharges on
PacifiCorp customers in Oregon and California, as well as
$250 million in general obligation bonds from the state of
Art Sasse, spokesman for PacifiCorp, stressed that the deal
is not yet final. Dam removal is contingent on several
conditions, he said, including an independent environmental
review of the consequences.
The 12-year horizon will also be needed to find other ways
of generating electricity, he said. The dams provide enough
electricity to serve 70,000 homes, he said.
"This allows us enough time to plan for the replacement
power," Sasse said.
The Klamath Off-Project Water Users believe the agreement is
"ridiculous" because PacifiCorp would rather tear down a
dependable source of renewable energy than build fish
ladders, Mallams said.
"There are other options besides dam removal, but they don't
even want to talk about that," he said, referring to removal
He also said the settlement agreement is unfair to farmers
outside the Klamath Project irrigation system.
The agreement calls for the retirement of 30,000 acre feet
of off-project water rights, but doesn't provide off-project
growers with reasonable assurances regarding water rights
and electricity costs, Mallams said.
"We are not opposed to a settlement, but it's got to be
equitable," he said. "They've basically abandoned us."
Kandra said PacifiCorp's decision to remove the dams was
fundamentally a business decision. The company determined
that dam removal was the most feasible alternative, he said.
As for the overall settlement agreement, maintaining the
status quo was not an option, and compromise is unavoidable,
For Klamath Off-project Water Users to gain traction in the
settlement agreement, they need to become part of the
process instead of throwing rocks at it, Kandra said.
"If people have things that need to be polished up and
updated, they need to make a decision to be in the program,"
Mallams said that his group wanted a seat at the table but
its ideas were consistently overruled by the other groups.
Discontent with the agreement isn't limited to off-project
farmers, he said. Many KWUA members also believe the deal
concedes too much to the tribes without gaining adequate
protections for farmers, Mallams said.
"There is no widespread support in the Klamath Basin," he
There are defectors on the off-project side as well.
The Upper Klamath Water Users' Association represents
off-project irrigators who support the deal, said Becky
Hyde, a rancher and member of the group.
The settlement agreement simply offers the most stability
for agriculture, so it doesn't make sense to stand in its
way, she said.
"The train has left the station," Hyde said. "There's really
only two options: settle or litigate. Litigation, to me, is
a pretty big gamble."
Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk tribe, said that
tribes have faced opposition to the agreement as well -
albeit for the opposite reasons. The Hoopa Valley tribe, for
example, opposes the deal because it believes farmers are
given water-use priority.
The deal has adversaries in the environmental camp as well.
Groups like Klamath Riverkeeper, Trout Unlimited and
American Rivers applauded PacifiCorp's announcement, but
Oregon Wild wasn't impressed.
"It's a pretty bow on a package that's intended to pass the
Bush administration's priorities into the next
administration," said Steve Pedery, conservation director
for the group.
In effect, the settlement agreement weakens protections for
fish in return for dam removal, he said.
Despite such contentiousness within stakeholder groups,
Tucker believes the coalition of farmers, tribes and
conservationists is strong enough not to be pulled apart by
"I think we've staked out a sizable portion of the middle
ground," he said.
Staff writer Mateusz Perkowski is based in Salem, Ore.