Klamath pact supporters
press bill’s passage
Time is running short for Congress to pass
a Klamath basin water bill that supporters say is crucial in
keeping the fragile peace between irrigators, Indian
tribes and conservationists.
The Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act,
which would ratify the removal of four hydroelectric dams and
authorize funding for environmental restoration, is a crucial
component in water use settlements between competing interests
in the region.
“Basically, all the pieces are in place. All we need is for the
last piece to be put in place by Congress,” said Richard
Whitman, natural resources adviser to Oregon Gov. John
Kitzhaber, who was involved in the deal negotiations.
To make the bill more palatable for lawmakers, the amount of
authorized federal spending was reduced from $750 million to
roughly $500 million, he said.
Supporters have also sought to demonstrate community support and
address other objections of lawmakers, Whitman said. “We’ve
checked all the boxes we’re supposed to check at this point.”
The legislation was recently approved by the Senate Energy and
Natural Resources Committee, which allows it to be voted on by
the whole Senate.
However, very little time remains before the current “lame duck”
Congress adjourns for the year and a new slate of lawmakers
moves into the U.S. Capitol in 2015. At that point, legislation
currently under consideration would expire.
Supporters say the Klamath bill needs to pass now because a
similar bill is unlikely to fair well under the next Congress
and the delicate compromise among stakeholders may not hold out
for much longer.
The “rubber band” uniting irrigators, tribes and
conservationists is getting stretched very tight and may snap,
said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water
Support for the legislation among key irrigator groups in the
area often gets overlooked due to the controversy over dam
removal, he said.
Dam removal is intended to improve the function and water
quality of the Klamath River for fish but has caused a great
deal of controversy, with opponents claiming it will actually
have negative environmental effects.
“For us, it’s not about dams,” Addington said. “It’s about water
in the ditch.”
The Klamath Tribes are recognized by the Oregon Water Resources
Department as “time immemorial” senior water rights holders in
the basin, which means they can “call” water and cut off junior
water rights holders.
Such calls can be devastating for irrigators during the droughts
that the basin has experienced in recent years.
The settlement deal contains mechanisms that reduce the impact
to irrigators, said Don Gentry, tribal chairman of the Klamath
“It provides a softer landing for folks with junior water
rights,” he said.
However, not everybody has lined up in support of the
Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams, a longtime opponent of
the deal, said public opinion in the area is against dam
“The local people still do not want it,” he said.
Removal of the J.C. Boyle dam would cost the county roughly
$500,000 in property taxes and would flush hazardous sediments
that have built up behind it down the river, Mallams said.
The four dams in question provide valuable flood control and
their removal would cause the Klamath river to dry up in summer,
Many irrigators in the upper Klamath basin, including Mallams,
remain opposed to the deal as well, he said. “I feel like this
is nothing more than a surrender.”
Irrigators who have signed onto the deal are supporting the
legislation under duress, Mallams said.
In the case of PacifiCorp, the dams’ owner, the federal
government has made clear that any required upgrades would be
prohibitively expensive, so removal is the only option, he said.
“They have a loaded gun to their head.”
Mallams said the leaders of Klamath County in Oregon and
Sisikiyou County in California — where three of the dams are
located — plan to send letters to their Congressional delegates
in opposition to the bill.
Bill sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has vowed to push for the
bill’s passage in the Senate and will try to attach it to “must
pass” tax or spending legislation, said Keith Chu, his
“Getting anything to happen is a heavy lift with only a few
weeks to go,” he said.
On the House side, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is seen as
instrumental to the bill’s chances of passage but hasn’t yet
decided whether or not to support it.
The representative’s team is doing “due diligence” on the
effects of the bill and people’s opinion of it, said Andrew
Malcolm, his spokesperson.
“It’s something we’re looking at,” he said. “We need to
understand all the implications of this before moving forward.”
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