Klamath pact hinges on dam removal
21/2 years in the making, gets mixed reviews
Perkowski, Capital Press 1/18/08
HERE for Protest Video
agreement to manage water in the Klamath Basin and remove four
hydroelectric dams received mixed reviews this week, but
supporters say that when viewed as a whole it takes all sides'
interests into account.
The plan, announced Jan. 15 by farmers, fishermen, Indian tribes,
conservationists and the federal government, comes with an
estimated $985 million 10-year price tag that would be paid for
with both public and non-governmental funds.
That amount doesn't include the cost of removing the dams, which
would fall on PacifiCorp, the electric utility that owns and
operates them. PacifiCorp estimates the cost could reach $4
billion, not counting the investment required to replace lost
"You don't just go up there with a sledgehammer," said Paul Vogel,
spokesman for the company, referring to the complexity of dam
The agreement basically boils down to special-interest groups
asking for money, said Vogel.
Although PacifiCorp initiated the settlement talks as part of the
dam relicensing process, it has been excluded for the past several
months, he said.
"It sure can't be a comprehensive plan for Klamath Basin-wide
issues, because the several hundred thousand customers we
represent weren't in the room," he said. "Our customers should not
have to pay for the unreasonable cost of removing these things to
further these interests."
Support for the settlement agreement also isn't unanimous among
agricultural, environmental or tribal interests. Some farmers
outside the Klamath Irrigation Project worry the plan doesn't
offer enough protection for agriculture, while some environmental
groups believe it leaves fish at the mercy of irrigators.
Despite these misgivings, the groups that drafted the agreement
say they've all had to make equal concessions.
"It would be hard to argue that we have not staked out a massive
amount of common ground," said Greg Addington, executive director
of the Klamath Water Users Association, during a joint telephone
press conference with tribes, conservation groups and federal
"There's not a party on this phone call that hasn't had to
compromise," he said.
When Klamath Irrigation Project farmers entered into the
settlement talks 21/2 years ago, Klamath Water Users Association
president Luther Horsley said they had three main goals:
n A reliable source of water for irrigation.
n Affordable power for pumping.
n Assurance that growers wouldn't be negatively affected by
Endangered Species Act regulations if fish return to previously
"We believe the agreement achieves those objectives," he said.
Under the agreement, the amount of water diverted for irrigation
would be limited per guidelines developed by a "joint powers
entity comprised of irrigation districts" known as the Klamath
Water and Power Agency, said Steve Kandra, farmer and board member
of the Klamath Water Users Association.
Irrigators would receive water according to an "allocation curve"
that depends on how much surface water is available overall,
In times of severe drought, water diversion would be curtailed by
roughly 100,000 acre feet, or about 25 percent of irrigators'
total demand in very dry years, he said.
Growers would offset the reduced diversion by conserving water,
forgoing irrigation and pumping groundwater, Kandra said.
When water is more abundant, the amount available for irrigation
would increase correspondingly with the conditions. However,
growers don't need as much water for irrigation in wet years, he
"We're not going to bring water in just to bring water in," he
Based on the statistical probability of having a dry versus a wet
year, irrigators would only need to pump ground water about 50
percent of the time, rather than every year, as they generally do
now, Kandra said.
Also, when the dams are removed or additional storage is built,
10,000 acre feet of water would be added to the 330,000 acre foot
baseline amount that could be diverted for irrigation, he said.
As for compliance with the Endangered Species Act, "we'd still be
looking at environmental responsibilities," Kandra said.
But by abiding by the allocation curve and proceeding in good
faith with habitat conservation projects, on-project irrigators
would basically be protected from ESA enforcement, he said.
As long as on-project irrigators stick to the standards outlined
in the settlement agreement, biological opinions issued by the
National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service would categorize farming as a "non-jeopardy" to fish, said
For off-project irrigators to gain the same level of protection,
on the other hand, individuals and groups will need to voluntarily
satisfy performance standards, which may include forgoing
irrigation and undertaking conservation projects, he said.
Kandra said this arrangement is controversial, since some
off-project irrigators question the value of protection compared
to the cost of performance standards.
"Individuals will need to control their fates on that issue," he
said. "People are going to have to be making some decisions."
However, protection from regulation may be offered as an
"umbrella" to groups that cooperatively satisfy performance
standards, Kandra said.
"You're certainly hoping watersheds would be working together," he
said. "Some of the things will meld right into activities already
Both on-project and off-project irrigators will be able to join
the Klamath Water and Power Agency to enjoy stable electricity
prices; the agency would reduce rates through renewable energy
projects, such as wind turbines and solar panels, Kandra said.
"The money generated by the enterprise will come back as a credit
to people who participate in the program," he said.
The Klamath Off-Project Water Users, one of the negotiators in the
settlement, believes that the energy plan is unrealistic, which is
one of several reasons the group opposes the overall agreement,
said Edward Bartell, farmer and president of the group.
"We think it's going to absolutely devastate this community," he
The $33 million allocated for renewable energy development in the
agreement doesn't come with any funding assurances, he said. Even
if it did, the plan wouldn't produce enough revenue to contain
rates at 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, the prescribed goal, Bartell
"It's off by an order of magnitude to be able to do that," said
The agreement also doesn't provide any concrete, legal assurances
that farmers would actually be protected from ESA enforcement or
future irrigation water shut-offs, he said.
"We think it's just an empty promise in the settlement," said
Bartell. "Everybody seems to have back-pedaled on everything, as
far as assurances for agriculture."
Bartell is also troubled by the settlement's recognition of
tribes' "time immemorial" water rights.
"We think it's extremely risky to grant a water right like that,"
The agreement also contains a provision that would have the
federal government buy out 30,000 acre feet of water rights from
off-project irrigators, he said.
"We see it as a huge threat," said Bartell.
Two environmental groups that withdrew from the settlement talks,
WaterWatch of Oregon and Oregon Wild, also oppose the agreement.
From their perspective, though, the settlement bows to pressure
from "politically powerful agribusiness interests," according to
The Hoopa Valley tribe, which remained in the talks but does not
support the settlement, opposes a provision that would have tribes
waive legal claims against the U.S. government if they disagree
with the plan's implementation, said Mike Orcutt, fisheries
director for the tribe.
"There's not enough assurances that fish populations would be
protected," he said.
While the agreement does specify minimal irrigation diversions, it
does not set up similar minimum flow levels for fish, said John
DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch. The solution to
environmental issues in the settlement is based on political
convenience, not actual science, he said.
"It's a fantasy to think this agreement is going to solve those
problems," DeVoe said.
The settlement agreement does contain sacrifices that unsettle
every party involved in the talks, so it's easy to "cherry pick"
provisions that make entire 256-page document seem unpalatable to
any one group, said Kandra.
When taken as a whole, however, the settlement takes everybody's
fundamental interests into account, he said.
"It's like when people read the Bible. You can take a verse and
either take it in or out of context as it relates to the book,"
said Kandra. "It makes it a very complex organism. ... Everybody
is going to look at it and interpret it differently."
Staff writer Mateusz Perkowski is based in Salem. E-mail:
Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement requests that PacifiCorp
remove the Iron Gate, J.C. Boyle, Copco 1 and Copco 2 dams,
but does not fund those projects, which the power company
estimates to cost up to $4 billion.
If the plan is approved by Congress and the state governments
of Oregon and California, more than $985 million would be
spent on governance, fishery, water resource, regulatory
assurance, power, county and tribal programs through 2017.
To fund the project, the parties that drafted the agreement
will seek appropriations from governmental as well as private
entities. The overall settlement agreement would be effective
through 2055, at which point it would need to be extended.
Habitat restoration, fish reintroduction, and monitoring
programs form the largest portion of the bill, at $493.2
Restoration would occur in two phases. The short term plan
would focus on such projects as riparian area protection and
stream channel restoration. The long term plan would implement
policies based on findings from the first phase.
Species would be reintroduced in areas above the current sites
of hydroelectric dams and monitored. A screening program would
prevent fish from entering irrigation diversions.
Managing water for on-project irrigation, Upper Klamath basin
projects, National Wildlife Refuges, drought conditions and
the effects of climate change will cost about $296.3 million.
Assistance to regional tribes for collaborative management of
fisheries and related programs, as well as habitat
conservation programs, would total $80 million.
Preventing and minimizing the negative effects on endangered
species reintroduced above hydroelectric dams, as well as
other provisions of the regulatory assurance to irrigators,
will cost $47.5 million.
To keep power rates at about $0.03 per kilowatt-hour, the
settlement proposes to secure legislation for federal reserve
power for on-project pumping facilities and long-range
investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The
total cost would be $41.7 million.
Mitigating economic impacts to Klamath County in Oregon and
Humboldt and Siskiyou counties in California - including
property tax base reduction and other impacts of dam removal -
would cost $23.2 million.
The expense involved in facilitating and coordinating the
settlement agreement is the least expensive portion of the
plan, ranging from about $300,000 to $450,000 a year. The
total cost of governance in the next 10 years comes to about
For a summary of the settlement agreement and the full text of
the document, go to www.edsheets.com/Klamathdocs.html.
- Mateusz Perkowski