Klamath farmers' utility bills to rise
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has denied a
U.S. Department of Interior request to continue
low electric rates enjoyed by 1,000 farmers on the
Klamath Reclamation Project the past 90 years.
The decision means that farmers, the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation and the Lower Klamath National
Wildlife Refuge face increases of 1,000 to 2,500
percent in the cost of pumping water around the
Klamath Reclamation District, which covers 200,000
acres straddling the Oregon-California border,
when a 1956 contract freezing rates at 1917 levels
expires in April.
The Bureau of Reclamation will ask for FERC to
reconsider and seek relief from the Oregon and
California public utility commissions, said
spokeswoman Rae Olsen.
"Our position is that if feasible, a cost-based
power rate should be negotiated, which recognizes
the value of water control and availability for
PacifiCorp operations from the Klamath
Thanks to legislation
enacted last year, Oregon farmers will see their
rates phased in over seven years, at a savings of
$31 million. But barring some concession from
PacifiCorp, farmers on the California side of the
project will see their electric bills jump in
Scott Seus, whose family grows 3,000 acres of
onions, horseradish, peppermint and organic
alfalfa around Tulelake, Calif., said farmers were
not done fighting, arguing that fish, wildlife and
PacifiCorp all benefit from their ability to move
Seus said he did not think it would put farmers
out of business, but would force many to move from
efficient sprinkler irrigation to cheaper flood
irrigation, reduce the number of acres farmed on
marginal lands, and increase the likelihood some
career farmers would sell to people looking for
Unsuccessful in winning a federal buyout of
irrigated farmlands to provide more water for
salmon in the Klamath River, environmentalists,
salmon fishermen and the Hoopa and Yurok tribes
had opposed any extension of reduced electric
"When the price increases for a resource, you tend
to conserve it," said Steve Pedery, spokesman for
the Oregon Natural Resources Council, an
environmental group. "Right now, there is very
little incentive to conserve water or electricity
in the Klamath Basin."
Authorized in 1905, the Klamath Reclamation
Project built a network of canals to drain Tule
Lake in California and Lower Klamath Lake in
Oregon and now irrigates 200,000 acres of farmland
that produce grain, alfalfa, onions, potatoes,
horseradish, and cattle.
On most projects around the West, Reclamation
built dams to provide low-cost power for
irrigators. On the Klamath Project, they ceded
that responsibility to California & Oregon Power
Co., which built dams to produce electricity.
Copco has since been taken over by PacifiCorp.
PacifiCorp has said electric rates of 0.6 cents
per kilowatt hour were 20 percent below market in
1956, and are now 99 percent below the 6 cents per
kilowatt hour charged for irrigation power in
Oregon. The rate in California is 8 cents per
Lumping together the 220 customers on the project
in California, 720 on the project in Oregon, and
300 off the project in California -- including a
golf course, cemetery and schools that pay 0.75
cents per kilowatt hour -- PacifiCorp has said it
loses $8 million to $10 million a year.
Interior had asked FERC to continue the electric
rates in annual extensions of PacifiCorp's license
to operate dams on the Klamath River, which
generate electricity with water that has run
through the irrigation project.
The commission wrote in its decision that even if
the contract was a term of the old dam operating
license, it expires on April 16, so any annual
renewal of the license, which expires in February,
will not include the electric rate contract.
"The 1956 contract authorizes, but does not
obligate, PacifiCorp to shape flows for the
generation of electricity. PacifiCorp may choose
to forgo this right by letting the contract
expire, and its new license application indicates
it plans to do so."