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Water pact receives backlash, Stakeholders decry county letter on dam removal
Klamath County commissioners need to choose between supporting antiquated dams or irrigated agriculture, several water agreement stakeholders said Monday.Last week, in response to the Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act (SB 2379) passing the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, commissioners Tom Mallams, Jim Bellet and Dennis Linthicum vowed to draft a letter opposing the bill.
Several Basin residents, organizations and agencies have spent years developing SB 2379. It is an inclusive piece of federal legislation that attempts to establish reliable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators.The pact also focuses on providing an economic package for the Klamath Tribes, restoring aquatic and riparian habitat in tributaries of Upper Klamath Lake and removing four Klamath River dams owned by PacifiCorp. Dam removal controversy
The commissioners do not support dam removal and further argue that if the dams are removed, PacifiCorp should remove them without government intervention.According to off-project irrigator Matt Walter, the commissioners have to choose between supporting privately owned dams that produce little electricity and limited income for the county or supporting an ag community that generates more than $300 million annually.
“We need leaders, and we need to go forward,” Klamath Project farmer Tracey Liskey said. “If you’re not going to lead, get the hell out of the way.”According to PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely, without an inclusive piece of legislation that supports dam removal, stakeholders don’t have a settlement. Without a settlement, PacifiCorp will be forced to relicense and construct fish ladders at the four dams, which would cost more than removing the dams under the terms of the settlement.
“The cost of fish ladders at all four of the dams alone, which is required if the dams are kept, is estimated to be $300 million, and total capital costs to comply with licensing terms are likely to exceed $400 million. The cost for dam removal under the settlement for PacifiCorp customers is capped at $200 million,” Gravely wrote in an email.Dam removal is the most feasible and cost effective way to provide fish passage for salmon and steelhead, said Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry. The Tribes are party to the agreement as well and hold the primary water rights in the Basin.
‘Irresponsible and naive’Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, called the commissioners’ actions and comments “irresponsible and naive.” He said it shows that the commissioners are completely out of touch.
Walter pointed to the progress stakeholders have made in the past year, including bringing on new pact supporters, such as off-project irrigators, who have signed on in favor of the legislation.Gentry also noted the growing Basin-wide support for the agreements, especially since the Tribes reached a settlement agreement with off-project water users.
“It’s disappointing that the dam removal seems to be the most significant point of contention by the commissioners,” Gentry said.Walter believes the commissioners should reach out to the public for direction rather than espousing policy based on their personal opinions. The commissioners claim they are representing the interests of the county residents.
“The legislation has changed; the circumstances have changed; the stakes have changed and the public perception has changed, yet (the commissioners) continue to ignore the facts and try and wish this all away. None of it is going away,” Addington said. “This isn’t about dams — this is about stable communities and a sound economy. It’s about a predictable supply of water in the ditches.”Widespread effects
Warren Haught, president of the Klamath Basin Improvement District, said the Klamath Project’s future is in jeopardy if the settlements don’t pass. A letter drafted by his district’s attorney to Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., intends to neutralize the commissioners’ message by explaining the settlement’s benefits. Haught said a template letter has been given to several districts’ board members and irrigators to sign and send to Walden.“Walden needs to understand it’s important to everybody,” Haught said.
Walden, who represents Oregon’s 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, has stated that he plans to support the water settlement in Congress, but he has reservations about removing the four Klamath dams.“We know the agreements can help secure our water. The agreements include a settlement between the Klamath Tribes and on-project farms that is already working … The on-project settlement and the recent upper Basin agreement will collapse if Congress does not act soon. The situation is urgent,” the letter states.
Crucial timeframeWalter said if the legislation receives heavy opposition and gets drawn out for two more years, it will become more difficult to pass. Dam removal is a major component and several stakeholders won’t accept anything less, he added.
“The time for this to happen is now,” Walter said.Addington said options for the region’s family farms and ranches are unpleasant if the settlement package fails to pass. It’s likely some key parties may withdraw from the agreements and start looking at other options.
“Most of those options are going to involve significant risks and costs for the irrigation community,” Addington said.PacifiCorp spokesman Gravely pointed out that the federal government has advocated a settlement approach to Klamath Basin water issues under both the Bush and Obama administrations. Dam removal has always been a central component, he noted.
“The federal government is a signatory to the agreements and has a major role in carrying out all aspects of the settlement,” Gravely said. “The legislation allows the negotiated settlement, and the policy preferences of the federal government under the last two presidents and the states of Oregon and California, to happen in a way that protects PacifiCorp’s customers.“If the federal government doesn’t hold up its end of the settlement, the settlement doesn’t happen, and we don’t believe that leads to a better outcome for anyone involved in these issues.”
The commissioners plan to approve their letter in a public meeting this week; however, the commissioners will be in Eugene most of the week for the Association of Oregon Counties annual conference, and the meeting may be held remotely.“The fact that they are taking public comment on such a significant issue by cell phone from a far away place is absurd; it’s just a joke,” Addington said.
email@example.com ; @LMJatHandN Information from stories by Herald and News reporter Samantha Tipler was used in this story.
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Page Updated: Sunday November 23, 2014 09:42 PM Pacific
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