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

 August 15, 2006, Commentary by Bill Kennedy, Klamath Basin farmer. for The Herald and News   
FOLLOWED BY: Seize the moment to make progress on the Klamath
Herald and News editor Pat Bushey has touched on several thoughts regarding the intentional dismantling of the power infrastructure on the Klamath River. Seize the moment to make progress on the Klamath (August 13, 2006).

The debate has been boiled down to a simple dams or salmon. This sounds a lot like fish or farmers. Some of the dams have been in the river for about 100 years, not a very long time.

Today the hydro portion from the Klamath dams seems small at 150 Megawatts. The natural gas fired plant the city of Klamath Falls is trying to operate is almost five times this size. If the hydro portion of Pacific Corp’s power portfolio is gone, it will be replaced with natural gas fired plants. This would quickly complement its large dependence on coal-fired plants.

While we are seeing an advocacy to dismantle four big dams on the Klamath, we are looking ahead to more gas-fired plants in Oregon. They cannot be built in California because of environmental concerns.

Dismantling our power capacity on the Klamath River is one symptom of a very serious problem we are starting to recognize in this nation. We have ignored the basic needs of maintaining our infrastructures. We have dike failure in Louisiana, California and Oregon. Our power production is dependent on imported oil and gas. Our power grid cannot feed hungry air conditioners in Sacramento. As you read this opinion, the demand for water in the western United States, including Klamath Lake, has increased.

I believe we can have modern hydropower with effective fish passage and modern hatchery management. We can have vibrant fisheries up and down the Pacific coast. Renewable power can complement this.

A few people in our nation are willing to see our roads, schools, reservoirs and our power production crumble from lack of maintenance and lack of planning for the future. In the case of the four big dams on the Klamath River, we see advocacy to deliberately dismantle our power production capacity.

At the fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City last March one concern was that a majority of Africans lack regular electricity, preventing them from operating pumps to extract water from wells. Some at the Forum pointed out that hydroelectricity could help.

"Investment in hydroelectric infrastructure is not a choice anymore for Africa, it is a must," Jamal Shagir, the World Bank's director of water and energy, said in a report

While we are talking about removing hydroelectric capacity that is directly linked to the development of our irrigated crop production, the World Bank recognizes the importance of hydroelectricity to bring people out of poverty and away from dependence on other nations.

While we continue to see our infrastructure of irrigated agriculture ignored and dismantled, third world nations in Africa, the Americas and Asia are trying to build what we have had for over 100 years.

Are we willing to move towards an insecure poverty or do we value the importance of hydroelectricy on the Klamath River? Do we want to import our food fiber and power or de we believe in the security of domestic capacity and capability?

Somewhere, perhaps in Klamath County, we need to set a floor on the loss of our irrigated acres. We need to recognize the value of our irrigated acres for its production of food, fiber, and energy. Our economy and the wildlife we enjoy depend upon this production. Our appealing open space and our social values, quality of life, are threatened by the continued loss of irrigated agriculture.

We must decide to maintain what we have. We must plan for growth. We need to develop new water and power supplies in our nation.

We cannot continue to be held hostage by unrealistic demands disguised by nations that are part of our community. The reality check is that our western United States continues to grow. Without careful planning that maintains our infrastructure and develops for our future needs, we will be on a fast track to poverty. This is the ultimate threat to our environment and wildlife.

William D. Kennedy
Klamath Basin farmer


Seize the moment to make progress on the Klamath
August 13, 2006

Climate looks right for progress

It's hard to say where discussions over the future of the Klamath River dams go from here, but there is much more of an open-mindedness on the subject than has been present in the recent past.

Movement is welcome, especially if changes result that improve the river's health, regardless of whether those changes include dam removal.

The dams - Iron Gate, J.C. Boyle, and Copco 1 and 2 - generate about 150 megawatts of power and represent 1.7 percent of PacifiCorp's total output. The utility, owned by MidAmerica Energy Holdings Co., serves 1.6 million customers in six states. They're located near the Oregon-California border between Ashland and Yreka.

At issue is the license renewal for the dams as they near the end of the original licenses' 50- year run, though they can be extended on a year-to-year basis.

Indian tribes along the river have launched a campaign to get the dams removed to re-establish upper Klamath Basin spawning grounds for salmon, and improve the river's health. Poor runs of Klamath River salmon from the river led to closure of about 700 miles of Oregon and California coastal areas to commercial fishing this year.

In addition, the Karuk Tribe on the California stretch of the river reports that high levels of toxins have developed in the reservoirs be-hind the dams, leading the tribe to call for the reservoirs' closure to the public.

“Now we know that these dams are not only hazardous to fish, they're hazardous to people as well,” according to Karuk Vice Chairman Leaf Hillman. “These dams create horrific water quality problems. We expect this will make it difficult for PacifiCorp to get a clean water permit from the state of California.”

A number of things have happened recently to change the atmosphere around the dam-removal issue.

PacifiCorp was sold by ScottishPower to MidAmerica. Tribes said the attitude switched when that happened, though PacifiCorp Energy - the subsidiary of PacifiCorp that is handling the relicensing process - said it didn't.

PacifiCorp Energy's president, Bill Fehrman, said this week, “We are not opposed to dam removal or other settlement opportunities as long as our customers are not harmed and our property rights respected.”

Craig Tucker, who is in charge of the Karuk Tribe's dam removal efforts, said “Certainly when we first started, they said there was no way they were going to consider dam removal. This is the first time they've released a media statement with us, saying, ‘Dam removal is OK by us.' They just don't want to stick it to ratepayers.”

That doesn't mean it'll happen

Fehrman's statement undoubtedly is being parsed by everyone who has an interest in the situation, and many people do. Clearly, though, it's not the same as saying the dams were going to get pulled out.

Something else has happened in the past few years that may be smoothing the way toward solution of at least some of the Klamath's problems.

Resource users at both ends of the river - farmers and ranchers in the upper Basin, tribes along the river's length, and ocean-going fishermen - have managed to reduce the acrimony and finger-pointing. They understand each other's problems better, and they deserve credit for their efforts.

They are lots of interests to be considered.

PacifiCorp doesn't want to increase rates because of dam removal. Presumably, the company's shareholders also have to be considered.

Irrigators and others in the upper Basin want to come out of the licensing process with dependable and affordable power. They also need a reliable water supply and not to have the Klamath Reclamation Project become embroiled in another dispute over water needs for salmon entering the upper Basin.

Tribes want adequate water for fish species all through the river, and some of those species carry the extra weight of being protected by the Endangered Species Act.

But the climate seems right for major changes - far more so than they were a few years ago. Those at the bargaining table should seize the moment, and the Oregon and California governors should lend an assist.

Editorial board

Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial, which represents the view of the Herald and News editorial board. Its members include:

Publisher Heidi Wright.
Editor Steve Miller.
Day Editor Marcia McGonigle.
Opinion Editor Pat Bushey.


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