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

Pacific Power invites Klamath Irrigators
to talk about power issues

"Mr A said, "I always thought we (irrigators and the power company) were partners.  This basin was cut in half, storing water on the other half.  Power companies begged for our excess water; they run on our excess.  I'd hope in 2006 we are still partners.  If they aren't, we are done."

by KBC 4/13/04 Today nine Klamath Basin irrigators/landowners were invited by Pacific Power (PP) to come and discuss power issues and other challenges facing our community.  There was no PP representative; just a facilitator Jackie,  who was not versed in our issues, and a tape recorder that worked some of the time. Because this is one of our busiest times of year, only seven irrigators could attend.

Of those attending, the acres irrigated ranged from 48 acres to 2000. They raised everything from pasture and cattle, to grains and row crops. Three of the guests were born and raised on Tulelake homesteads, with up to 4 generations of farmers on their soil. The others had lived on their land for several years. One man purchased his land, and the price included a water right.

We were asked to prioritize the importance of the top three concerns we are facing:
 #1 was water uncertainty. Banks will not loan because they we don't know if we can irrigate our crops. We have not recovered financially from the 2001 water shut-off, and our communities have not recovered. Many businesses and individual farm and ranch operations were destroyed. We do not know from year to year, month to month, day to day, if we will be allowed to use our deeded water.
#2 threat/concern is our power rate.  In 2006 our 50-year contract will expire. #1 and #2 are equally vital.  No water-no crops, livestock, or farm loans. With an increased power rate, we can't afford to pump our water.
#3 decreased land value from the water and power uncertainty, and the demands on our aquifer were brought up as concerns. In 2001, with dry canals and excessive well pumping, over 200 residential and irrigation wells went dry or disabled. Ms C said that the proposed COB energy plant from Chicago plans to pump out our groundwater and send the power to California. USGS is concerned about our aquifer.

Tule Lake before the farmers built and paid for water storage, The Klamath Project
Mr. A explained how, when he was eleven, a power contract was ratified. The farmers had built and paid for the Klamath Project, so half our land could be farmed, and the other half would store our water specifically for irrigation. This is the most efficient irrigation project in the United States. For fifty years we had extra water and a power company wanted rights to some of the water.  Property owners voted that  the power company could use some of our water. It was a partnership.

Mr A continued to tell about conservation practices we have been engaged in.  He purchased thousands of dollars worth of sprinklers, which will not be able to be used with an increased power rate.  He said that one irrigation district has a $500,000 power budget.  If our rates increase by ten, power rates for that district would be 5 million dollars. Everyone here has been encouraged to invest in electrical pumps. So we have power costs on top of our maintenance fees due our irrigation districts.

It was discussed that agricultural income impacts the entire basin's economy.  Besides our crop and livestock business, banks, restaurants, schools, farm equipment and automobile dealers, potato companies, businesses like produce boxes---hundreds of businesses and thousands of local lives are impacted by the Basin's agricultural well being.

When facilitator Jackie asked our opinion of the water bank as a solution, there was an overwhelming negative response.  It was brought up that the government paid the price for our water because they knew it was our water. The water bank was initially promoted to be a way, on a true drought year, to have some people idle their land while the rest of the irrigators are allowed to farm. People were paid a set price per acre foot of water that was not used.

Mr. K explained that this year the BOR (Bureau of Reclamation) did not pay a set price for our water, but instead made farmers bid against farmers, pitting neighbors against neighbors so they could get our water at a cheap price. It was brought up that Rangeland Trust was being paid by the government to have people forgo irrigation water. Mr. K said the  Bureau of Reclamation wants to purchase permanent water rights.

Regarding the efficiency of the water bank, it seemed that everyone agreed it does not work at all.  When lands go without water, the neighboring land requires more water because the water table drops. And when someone idles their land for a year, the next season it needs much more water to saturate the soil.

Why do people participate? It was explained by the group that the Bureau of Reclamation told our irrigation districts that we must sell our water; they are demanding this year 75,000 acre feet of our water and next year 100,000 acre feet of it. And they will not pay us what it is worth. However we were told that if we did not forgo this much water, the Klamath Project would be shut down and then they would demand our ground water like last year and would not pay for it, like the summer of 2003. That is why we participate.

Facilitator Jackie asked what we would like to see happen regarding our irrigation concerns...what are some solutions.  Ms D gave her a little background into our situation. She explained how the  Department of Justice along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs hired Dr Hardy to go against the irrigators in the water adjudication.  Hardy took the highest water years in recorded history and our BO:s (biological opinions) were formed by his report.  The report has since been recognized as flawed and agenda-driven, and the NAS (National Academy of Science--the 'best available science') has determined that lake level/river flow management will not help the fish.

Ms D went on to explain that irrigators were not allowed at the table when this water scheme was adopted. She said she feels a solution is for irrigators  to be at the table. We'd like the power company to work with Klamath Water Users Association. Re-consult on the BO;s and operation plan with the 'best available science'.  The current Project operation plan demands 75,000 acre feet mandatory agricultural downsize, regardless of water year type,  in the form of a water bank that does not work..

Ms W said that our farmland was a lake, and we diverted the water through a hill.  That is why the power companies have use of our water.

Mr A said, "I always thought we (irrigators and the power company) were partners.  This basin was cut in half, storing water on the other half.  Power companies begged for our excess water.  They run on our excess.  I'd hope in 2006 we are still partners.  If they aren't, we are done."

Facilitator Jackie said that since they are having us meet like this today, the power company is talking.

Ms C responded that the power company would not talk to the water users until the irrigators hired lawyers.

Facilitator Jackie asked, what can we do to get water certainty.

Mr A said, speed up the adjudication. The bank won't loan unless we have water certainty.

Link River dry before the Klamath Project was built
Ms D said, let us keep the water we used to have before we diverted it downriver by building the Klamath Project to store our water. Let those down river have the water they had historically before the Project was built. Sometimes the river went dry.  Or, let us have the amount of water that evaporated from the lake that was here before we routed it into Klamath Lake and downriver. Now they have not only taken our water, they have dried up many of our wells.

Facilitator Jackie asked what government programs are in place.

Mr K responded they are buying people out--buying their water rights. They are also paying people to conserve on water usage.

Facilitator Jackie asked our opinion of the hydro re-licensing process.

Mr. A said the environmentalists want to take out the dams.  We'd like to have a voice.  We'd like to understand the process. He said the good Lord made the earth, water, and it is a sin not to utilize it for irrigation and utilities.

Mr K said this is the cleanest power in the world and the dams should be re-licensed.

Ms. W said, regarding doing what the environmentalists want---they let the whole forest burn up.

Facilitator Jackie asked, what can the power company do to help you?

Response: communicate with us.  Put out weekly newsletters. Send them to the Herald and News, www.klamathbasincrisis.org website  (the home of Klamath Water Users Association, Klamath Bucket Brigade, and Tulelake Growers Association), water districts, and come to KWUA board meetings.

Facilitator Jackie asked what do we do if the power rates go up?

Mr. A said that he does not want to be the first to go broke--he wants to hold out to the end before being forced to leave.
Ms C and Ms J both wanted to do everything they can to maintain their way of life, even if it means taking out more jobs to supplement their income to pay the power bills.

Ms W said they want to continue farming. She said they are proud to be able to make their own living.

Facilitator Jackie brought up the power company re-licensing again.

Mr. A said we need to know who the company is.  Identify your company to the agricultural public. Tell us your re-license needs. We'd like to see them get water. We need someone to work with through this process. We need a power company representative.

Ms C asked that the power company would communicate with us via KBC, the newspaper, meetings. We must keep our current rates to continue farming. We need to talk.

Ms S said that when they had to drill a well in 2001, they had to have a contract where you use the pump and pay for power to pump water for a few years. You have to pay even if you don't pump your well water. She would like to see that contract renegotiated for when they do not use their well. 

Ms W did not want to support the power company getting re-licensed to use our water if we irrigators get a power rate that we can not afford.

Mr K explained the frustration of how we all have had to survive and deal with the fluctuating markets, weather, all of the unknowns, and have made it. And now we have unknowns inflicted on us by groups of people, our government and our power company.

It was stressed how important American grown food is because of the security and safety, and how our country at large, living in the cities, is not aware of its importance.

Again when asked by Facilitator Jackie what the power company can do to help us, Mr K said that if they are going to force us to sell, they can at least pay us enough to find a new livelihood. But we don't want to leave. We said that they can help us by keep an affordable power rate so we can continue farming.






Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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