Klamath dam removal plan unpopular with farmers
removal of four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River is a
bitter pill to swallow for the basin's agricultural industry.
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.
Other growers say dam removal will only enflame 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 that
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 system."
Earlier this year, the Klamath Water Users Association negotiated
a settlement with tribes and conservationists, known as the
Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, to end long-standing legal
battles over water rights in the region.
Removing dams was the key component of the agreement, but the
decision to take them down was ultimately in the hands of
PacifiCorp, the utility that owns the structures.
Throughout the year, PacifiCorp negotiated with the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission about re-licensing the dams. At the same
time, the firm discussed removing the structures with the
Department of the Interior.
On Thursday, 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 worth of surcharges on
PacifiCorp customers in Oregon and California, as well as $250
million in general obligation bond funds from the state of
Art Sasse, spokesman for PacifiCorp, stressed that the deal is not
yet final. Dam removal is contingent on a number of conditions, he
said, including an independent environmental review of the
The 12-year horizon will also be needed to find other ways of
generating electricity, he said. The dams currently provide enough
electricity to service 70,000 homes, he said.
"This allows us enough time to plan for the replacement power,"
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,
"There are other options besides dam removal, but they don't even
want to talk about that," he said, referring to removal
He 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, Kandra said.
In order 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," he said.
Mallams said that his group wanted to have 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 said.
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
"The train has left the station," Hyde said. "There's really only
two options: settle or litigate. Litigation, to me, is a pretty
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
"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 detractors.
"I think we've staked out a sizable portion of the middle ground,"