Federal energy regulators on Thursday decided
that irrigators that use Klamath River water
on the central California-Oregon border should
not be insulated from anticipated electricity
spikes, which could multiply farmers' pumping
costs 10 to 20 times.
Dam owner PacifiCorp since 1956 has
provided power to the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation's Klamath Project for a fraction
of what most irrigators pay. The contract is
up in April, and that frees PacifiCorp from
any obligation to keep providing cheap
electricity, the Federal Energy Regulatory
Irrigators have claimed that the federal
Klamath River Compact demands that Klamath
River water provides the lowest possible rates
for irrigators. Tribes have argued that
prolonging the cheap power terms would violate
the government's trust responsibility by
keeping up overuse of water, threatening
Klamath River salmon. Environmental groups
also pushed the commission to allow higher
PacifiCorp operates six hydroelectric dams
on the Klamath River, and is asking FERC for a
new 50-year license. It also operates Link
River Dam, which dams Upper Klamath Lake and
regulates the amount of water sent downstream
for power generation.
Bureau of Reclamation pumps move water
around its 200,000-acre project, and pumps at
various districts send it on to canals and
other infrastructure from which farmers pump
water onto hay, potato and grain fields. That
tiered process compounds costs.
Greg Addington, executive director of the
Klamath Water Users Association, said he's not
aware of any other project with similar power
needs, and believes PacifiCorp would not have
agreed to the previous 1956 contract if the
utility didn't make money. Klamath Irrigation
Project customers will be charged the same
tariff as any other irrigator, more than 10
times what they are currently charged. An
Oregon bill passed last year allows for the
increases over seven years.
”Why would they ever have come up with this
deal if there wasn't some benefit to them?”
The U.S. Department of the Interior --
under which falls the Bureau of Reclamation --
has requested a rehearing from the commission,
and will file its arguments within 30 days.
”We have water issues and now we're having
dollar issues with electricity,” McCracken
The FERC ruling also seems to reflect the
increased stress on the Klamath's resources.
The original 1917 contract signed by the
California Oregon Power Co. agreed to keep
Upper Klamath Lake at a certain level for
irrigation, provide water for irrigation and
provide power for pumping, it reads. Water
leftover was sent downstream to generate power
for other customers.
”There has been a lot that's happened over
this period of time,” said PacifiCorp
representative Dave Kvamme. “We think that the
ruling verifies our view of the facts.”
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and the National Marine Fisheries Service
demand that Upper Klamath Lake be kept full
enough to protect endangered sucker fish, and
that flows sent to the lower river are
adequate for threatened coho salmon. In recent
years, the government has paid farmers
millions to stop irrigating or switch to using
groundwater to free up extra water for salmon.
Water quality, fish diseases and the cut of
historic spawning grounds by Klamath dams are
all being weighed in the larger hydroelectric
licensing procedure or by fisheries agencies.
PacifiCorp, several American Indian tribes,
environmental groups, irrigators and
governments are also involved in parallel
Federal fisheries officials have indicated
that they will demand fish passage past the
dams, which could cost more than $100 million.
The exact recommendations are expected some
time in February.
John Driscoll covers natural
resources/industry. He can be reached at