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Farmers evaluate Klamath agreement to remove four dams

Issue Date: November 26, 2008, By Christine Souza, Assistant Editor California Farm Bureau Feceration Ag Alert

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Depending on their water source, farmers and ranchers near the California-Oregon border have differing views of a recent decision by Oregon-based hydroelectric power company PacifiCorp to remove four of its dams along the Klamath River. For Klamath Project irrigators, the agreement comes as a critical step, whereas irrigators downstream in the Scott River and Shasta River valleys see it as a potential threat to their own water supplies.

"The agreement regarding the dams appears to be a milestone in a very difficult history of conflict over the water resources of the Klamath Project," said Chris Scheuring, managing counsel for the California Farm Bureau Federation Natural Resources and Environmental Division. "Still, folks on Klamath tributaries downstream are worried about how the implementation of the settlement may affect their own rights to divert water for irrigation and stock watering, so we'll be following this issue closely to try to ensure that all of our affected members can continue their operations in the face of difficult environmental constraints."

PacifiCorp, the state of California, the state of Oregon and the federal government agreed in principle on Nov. 13 to remove the dams, to give threatened coho salmon and other fish species access to 300 miles of habitat in the river and improve water quality. The agreement would dovetail with a plan by 26 Klamath Basin stakeholders released in January-- the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a comprehensive solution for the region's water needs that expressed support for dam removal. Stakeholders include irrigators represented by the Klamath Water Users Association, as well as environmentalists, tribes, fishing groups and government agencies.

"This agreement in principle was a positive and necessary step forward toward the overall vision of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement to provide long-term security for communities up and down the basin," said Klamath Water Users Association Executive Director Greg Addington. "The Klamath Water Users Association in general does not like the idea of dam removal, but in this unique instance and as part of the bigger package, it gives us what we need to continue as a viable economic industry."

The agreement does not guarantee the removal of the dams, but simply provides a complex framework for what may be the largest dam removal project in history.

It calls for PacifiCorp to raise charges to its ratepayers by 2 percent over time to contribute $200 million toward decommissioning the dams. Proponents say these costs should be less than what it would cost PacifiCorp ratepayers to relicense the dams with updated fish passage. The state of California tentatively agreed to put up a $250 million bond. A final agreement would require legislation in both states and in Congress. The plan sets a timeline for the drafting and signing of a final agreement to remove the dams, with a target removal date of 2020.

The agreement compels the federal government to assess the costs and benefits of dam removal and as a result, scientific and engineering studies will be conducted in consultation with state, local and tribal governments and other stakeholders. A final determination will be made by March 31, 2012.

Tulelake farmer Scott Seus, who chairs the Klahmath Water Users Association Power Commithtee, calls the agreement a first step towards restoration of the river and assurance that farming continues up and down the Klamath River watershed.

"We are somewhat in control of our destiny and if everything goes as planned, it is something we can live with," Seus said. "Our other alternative is to keep going to battle in the courts and let new administrations dictate how the Klamath survives or fails."

Klamath Project irrigators like Seus remember vividly the 2001 water shutoff, when the federal government issued biological opinions under the Endangered Species Act that required higher water levels to protect endangered suckerfish and higher flows to protect threatened coho salmon. As a result, they are seeking improved water supply certainty as part of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. They are also asking for reliable and affordable power and protection against added regulatory restrictions if new threatened or endangered species are listed in the area.

But Scott River and Shasta River valley irrigators downstream, who were not at the table during negotiations for the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, are concerned about the implications for their farming operations.

"Siskiyou County Farm Bureau is concerned that in dry years, such as this year and last year, the Klamath will dry up in spots and the government will be looking to the Scott and Shasta rivers to make up those flows," said Siskiyou County Farm Bureau Past-President Mike Luiz. "We are worried about the loss of water storage during dry years at the four reservoirs: Copco 1, Copco 2, JC Boyle and Iron Gate. These water storage facilities keep water flowing not only for the fish, but for irrigators."

Other areas of concern include encroachment of private property rights, a reduction in funding for restoration projects, increased regulation and water quality issues.

"The loss of Copco II and Iron Gate reservoirs would also result in the taking of property value for those who live around the lakes," Luiz said. "This would translate into a substantial portion of these people's properties being taken with no reimbursement and no means of getting it back."

Downstream irrigators also say they wonder if the removal of the four dams would even lead to the well-intended result of a rejuvenated fish population.

"We would like to make certain that this dam removal goes through a peer review process and is based on sound science," Luiz said. "As this plan moves forward, we will ensure that our voice is heard."

Copies of the Agreement In Principle and accompanying letters from the Department of the Interior to the states and PacifiCorp can be found at www.DOI.gov.

(Christine Souza is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item. Top

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