Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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The task at hand; Task force tackles Basin water issues
The Klamath Project will likely receive cheaper federal power through the Bonneville Power Administration, although off project eligibility and PacifiCorp distribution remain uncertain.At a recent Senate committee hearing, Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the Klamath Basin task force has “bumped up against some roadblocks” as they seek “a way to provide lower-cost power to both on- and off-project users.”
Wyden himself will appear in Klamath Falls today to address the work of the task force, which he convened along with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.Governor John Kitzhaber’s natural resources adviser Richard Whitman said environmental challenges are wide-spread in the Klamath Basin and successful restoration will take years.
With a goal of prepping legislation by the end of April 2014, Whitman said the group needed to light a fire.Recognizing the difficulty and importance of their work, Sen. Wyden’s press secretary Tom Towslee said. “I don’t think anyone would argue that this is the single most complex water resource issue in the United States right now.”
Thursday’s task force meeting was expected to be the final one, though Whitman announced an additional meeting for Thursday, October 10 in Klamath Falls.Power Issues
Issues of power, water and the costs of regional water settlement agreements were identified as particularly difficult ones, requiring subcommittee work between larger task force sessions.Facilitator Ed Sheets emphasized the importance of power for pumping water on farms and ranches, as well as on wildlife refuges. Power was expected to be relatively easy but negotiations have grown thorny.
Greg Addington, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, said PacifiCorp owns the power distribution network so it has to partner in any energy deal.Due to recent interest by the city of Klamath Falls and Klamath County in separating from PacifiCorp and forming utility districts, Addington said it might become problematic.
Rancher and Upper Klamath Water Users Association representative Becky Hyde said, “We look forward to PacifiCorp becoming the good partner we need to get competitive power rates back to the Basin.”PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely disagreed with the negative assessment. “I don’t think it’s factoring in at all,” he said, noting that work to bring federal power to the Klamath Basin is ongoing.
And yet, Gravely said recently that “if we are on the one hand defending our local business against the prospect of local government takeover, it’s awkward for us at the same time to be promoting the transfer of some customers to federal power.”UKWUA President Matt Walter said upper Basin irrigators could face a 25 percent power increase in the near future. “That’s devastating in our area,” he said. “Power is everything.”
Walter said he would like the upper Basin to be recognized as eligible for federal power under Bureau of Reclamation authority.Special adviser to the Interior Secretary John Bezdek said Reclamation’s expertise can be immediately offered but federal recognition requires legislation.
“We understand that, and we’ve understood that for a long time,” Hyde said of the ranching community. “But you would rather have us happy than unhappy, because we are not quiet.”Budget Issues
A large sword hanging over the Klamath Basin task force is reducing the costs of regional water settlements low enough to be passed by a budgetconscious Congress.Governor John Kitzhaber’s natural resources adviser Richard Whitman expressed hope this will be accomplished.
In a draft report, Whitman said nonfederal revenue sources should help bring down the total costs by about $267 million.Glen Spain, who represents two fishing groups, said a cost $731 million has dropped to about $464 million over 10 years using 2014 dollars.
Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch of Oregon’s communications director, questioned whether changes to proposed budget numbers represent actual taxpayer savings, or simply a redistribution of the costs.McCarthy says many restoration programs appear unfunded, surmising that “it looks like we’re taking a bad deal and making it worse.”
John Bezdek said the important thing was that the task force’s draft plan succeeds in significantly decreasing federal spending, as requested by Sen. Wyden.An initial price tag of regional water settlement costs was previously lowered from nearly $1 billion to the more recent $550 million project cost.
Water IssuesRichard Whitman is overseeing the water subcommittee, which, given private sessions and confidentiality agreements between ranchers and the Klamath Tribes, is difficult to report on.
Yet in a drought year when the majority of the upper Basin saw their irrigation water shut off, they have plenty to talk about if a Basin-wide solution is to be reached.Roger Nicholson, president of Fort Klamath Critical Habitat Landowners, addressed the water shutoffs by saying, “Water first and then we’ll worry about power.”
Klamath Tribes chairman Don Gentry reported significant progress and said they are “working on an agreement in principle.”When that agreement is reached, Gentry said the irrigators and tribal members would take it back to their members to weigh in, as well as opening it up to the public. One sticking point, Gentry added, was getting everyone involved to support all parts of regional water settlement agreements. The water group plans to release further details of their negotiations at the next meeting on October 10.
Upper Basin landowners sit in on the Klamath Basin task force meeting Thursday at OIT.
H&N photos by Steven Silton
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Page Updated: Monday September 23, 2013 12:46 AM Pacific
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