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PacifiCorp has some strange bedfellows

Published Thursday, May 19, 2005

PacifiCorp probably has enough problems with its relations in the Klamath Basin, but now comes a host of people who want to use the power company's rate structure to attack irrigated farming in the Basin.

As such, the opponents of Basin irrigators have become bedfellows with PacifiCorp in the company's efforts to increase power rates to the irrigators by as much as a thousand percent. PacifiCorp may or may not like the company, but hasn't disavowed it.

Basin irrigators have long been the focus of attacks from environmental groups, downstream fishermen and tribes who want to see more water flowing down the Klamath River for fish.

Water in the Klamath Basin was over-promised by the federal government, and just about everyone wound up paying. In 2001, irrigation water was shut down for most of the summer to much of the Klamath Reclamation Project in order to send more water downriver for endangered salmon species.

The struggle over water continued, but the battleground has shifted to power rates.

PacifiCorp, under its current name and earlier ones, has been a key player in the Basin development for many decades. Along the way, it absorbed the California Oregon Power Company, commonly known as Copco. With Copco came that company's obligations to provide low-cost power to Basin irrigators in exchange for the right to build dams on the Klamath River.

That was the deal. Fifty years later, as the life of that contract is drawing to a close, it should still be the deal.

Along with the right to build the dams - a money maker for PacifiCorp - development in the Basin has probably increased the dependability of the flow of the Klamath River through the dams. Basin agricultural towns provided a new market for the power and, unlike the deal on irrigation, those consumers paid the market rate.

PacifiCorp wants a new deal, and the extra $8 million to $10 million the higher rates for irrigators would generate for the company. As it tries to balance corporate financial necessities, regulatory obligations and responsibilities to Basin farmers - and the towns and businesses that depend on agricultural revenue - PacifiCorp has been joined by groups whose major interest is to shut down irrigation in the Klamath Basin. These include downriver tribes, fishermen and environmental groups who blame Basin irrigators for just about every bad thing that happens on the lower river.

Their agenda is pretty simple: Reduce or eliminate irrigation in the Upper Klamath Basin. The less water used at this end of the river, the more will be in the river at the other end, they think. The higher the cost of PacifiCorp power rates, the more difficult it will be for Klamath Basin agriculture to survive, they think.

Perhaps, but the consequences may not be so predictable, or even consistent with their aims. Higher electricity rates, for example, could mean that more farmers will turn to flood irrigation. That would use less of the suddenly more expensive electricity. But it would use more water for the same amount of crop output. That's no way to conserve water.

Then again, that may not matter to PacifiCorp's new fans. They may figure that farmers won't have a way out, except to go out of business, which means they wouldn't use any electricity. Surely that can't be PacifiCorp's idea - can it?

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

 

 

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