TULELAKE — Basin ag producers rallied Saturday to urge California Rep. Doug LaMalfa to support farming and long-term water certainty in the Klamath Basin.

At a two-hour town hall hosted by LaMalfa, R-Calif., residents from both sides of the Oregon-California border stood to ask LaMalfa to throw his support behind the Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, Senate Bill 133.

“It’s a unique situation and it’s a unique solution,” said Dan Keppen, former executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association.

The town hall was held at the Tulelake-Butte Valley Fair. About 75 people crowded into the Jock’s Sale Pavilion to participate in the discussion. LaMalfa represents California’s 1st District, which encompasses the northeastern portion of the state.

LaMalfa said he has been working on a drought relief bill that primarily addresses water issues in California’s Central Valley. He said increasing water supply in the Basin is also a concern.

According to LaMalfa, officials and water managers need to figure out how to add to the Basin’s water supply, not just reallocate the already short water supply that exists.

“One of the big factors is we still need nature to provide rain and snowpack,” he said.

Basin Fertilizer co-owner Bob Gasser asked LaMalfa to join in supporting SB133, a three-part pact that encompasses the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the Upper Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

Together, the agreements create water certainty for Basin ag producers and attempt to establish affordable power rates for farmers, ranchers and the Klamath refuge complex. The pact also provides an economic package for the Klamath Tribes, and aims to restore aquatic and riparian habitat in tributaries of Upper Klamath Lake. They also call for removing four dams — the J.C. Boyle, Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2 — from the Klamath River.

“My ask is: If someone puts the nail in our coffin, let us do it,” Gasser said said referring to Basin ag producers. “Then you can always say ‘Hey, you guys were wrong.’ ”

Dams in contention

LaMalfa said the agreement is fine, except for the dam removal component.

“The reasoning behind the dam removal doesn’t hold up,” he said, calling the logic for removing the dam “lousy.” He argued his point by stating he believes the water pact is about political power and not science.

Landowner Larry Nicholson said even if LaMalfa doesn’t agree with the science behind the pacts, an economic case for supporting SB133 can be made for each stakeholder group, including farmers and ranchers, Basin tribes, environmental interests and rural communities that depend on ag dollars.

According to Keppen, the Klamath Project and upper Basin farmers generate $600 million per year. He said that figure is even larger when ag throughout the entire Klamath Basin is tallied up.

Stakeholders’ solution

Nicholson noted that SB133 was only accomplished by an enormous amount of collaboration and sacrifice by Basin water stakeholders.

“Nobody is going to come up with a plan B,” he said. “We are asking for your support. We’re not asking you to solve our problem — we did that as a community.”

LaMalfa said he is concerned Klamath dam removal will set a precedent for other dams across the nation.

“I can agree with probably 99 percent of the agreement, other than that one really big thing,” LaMalfa said.

Keppen noted that the Klamath dams are not owned by the federal government. Instead, they are privately owned by PacifiCorp. He doesn’t believe dam removal has to be precedent setting and proposed placing language in the pact that prevents it.

PacifiCorp Spokesman Bob Gravely said the public utility commissions in the six states PacifiCorp operates in have agreed that the settlement is the least risky outcome for customers.

Alternatives lacking

LaMalfa said he still hopes a solution is out there. He did not offer an alternative to the settlement agreements.

“You’re at the end of your rope. I realize that, too. We’ve got to find a way to get you through this, but I don’t know what that is yet,” LaMalfa said.

“We’re trying to find a path to somehow have this thing be survivable,” LaMalfa said. “We know the Tribes can make a call on all water and shut everything down. There’s not a great solution.”

LaMalfa said he has casually talked with Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., about the settlement package. Dam removal has also been a hard sell for Walden.

LaMalfa said he has not discussed the bill with its sponsor, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., but he is willing to meet with Wyden.

“I’m working on a demand list myself … Is there a list of demands that I need to get thrown in there as a sweetener? If this is going to happen anyway, we don’t want to be standing here holding an empty bag,” LaMalfa said.

Need for certainty

Farmer Tricia Hill encouraged LaMalfa to think about whether or not farmers will stick around, or if new farmers will take the helm in the future, if no water certainty is established.

“Without the settlement in place, we’re going to start losing these people,” Keppen said. “That’s my heartfelt belief.”

Scott Seus, of Seus Family Farms, stressed that Basin ag jobs depend on water.

“We’re ready to have a deal, and we’re ready to have certainty on water,” Seus said. “I don’t know what I’d tell my 120 employees or their families or the community we live in if we don’t go forward with this agreement.”