Water settlement remains in limbo
Discussions continue about the Klamath restoration agreement
by Ty Beaver, Herald and News April 5, 2009
Lawmakers are waiting, proponents are working and opponents are
And the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement continues in limbo
during ongoing discussions about a final dam removal agreement,
increased consensus and cooperation.
Some groups, including the Klamath County Board of Commissioners,
are still on the fence about the document, which seeks to resolve
water disputes between fishermen, farmers, tribes and
environmentalists and would cost an estimated $1 billion to fully
Following are comments from those connected to the restoration
agreement or who could possibly influence its prospects.
Spokesman Art Sasse said he is optimistic that PacifiCorp,
government officials and stakeholders can work out a final dam
removal agreement, but could only say that talks on the issue are
Those involved have until June 30 to finish a final draft of the
agreement, which would remove the Portland-based utility’s four
hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, if studies determine it
to be feasible.
Legislation to help pay for removal is also still in the works.
Under a bill already approved by the Oregon Senate, up to $180
million would be collected from PacifiCorp’s 500,000 Oregon
ratepayers to go toward dam removal.
The legislation would create a surcharge that would raise the
average Oregon customer’s bill by about $1.50 a month.
Agricultural power users would see about a 2 percent increase in
A bill that would charge the Oregon Public Utilities Commission
with placing that surcharge on PacifiCorp customers’ bills to help
pay for dam removal has yet to be voted on by state
representatives, or to even have a House committee hearing.
State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls voted against the bill
when it passed the Senate earlier this year.
He said additional amendments to the bill proposed by ratepayer
groups and others to protect ratepayers and taxpayers from further
costs of dam removal have not come forth from Gov. Ted
Kulongoski’s office as promised.
Additionally, state Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, also
opposed to dam removal, said the bill has to have a hearing in the
House Environmental Committee by April 17 or it will be dead. He
said the bill will likely be moved to another committee.
Jillian Schoene, Kulongoski’s spokeswoman, said the governor’s
office continues to be involved in negotiations concerning a final
dam removal agreement, which is due by June 30. The talks are
progressing, she said.
Garrard said he wants to organize another meeting with various
stakeholders connected to the agreement and irrigators off the
Klamath Reclamation Project to address concerns.
Federal lawmakers continue to say that the restoration agreement
needs broad support in the Basin if it is to be seriously
considered by Congress.
Tom Towslee, spokesmen for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the
senator hasn’t received new information on the agreement since
visiting the area several weeks ago. Wyden said during that time
that a consensus would be needed for the document to succeed and
until then, federal legislation will have to wait.
“Sooner or later, this will have federal involvement,” Towslee
said. “Now is not that time.”
Julie Edwards, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.,
said the senator’s staff in Southern Oregon is gathering
information and monitoring the events surrounding the agreement.
He is equally concerned about having broad support for the
document, and Edwards said there is no indication yet when
legislation to implement it would come before Congress.
Irrigators conducted a meeting in Merrill about two weeks ago to
voice opposition to the agreement to an invited group, though some
irrigators supportive of the agreement also attended.
Tom Mallams, a board member of the Klamath Off-Project Water
Users, said the meeting was in response to numerous meetings other
stakeholders in the Basin conducted behind closed doors, while
also giving opponents the chance to speak freely without being
“A lot of the Project people are leery of coming out in the open
and talking,” he said.
Mallams and other opponents maintain the restoration agreement
doesn’t properly address the issues of water security, affordable
power and protection from environmental regulations for
They’ve also expressed concerns over removing the four
hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River and providing the Klamath
Tribes the Mazama Tree Farm in central Klamath County.
Mallams said he has sought further negotiations with stakeholders,
especially on-Project irrigators and the Klamath Tribes, to work
out the problems but nothing has been arranged, though he’s seeing
a growing inclination to have both sides meet.
Irrigators supportive of the agreement, on and off the Project,
met with Klamath County Commissioners in recent weeks advocating
for the document and to hear commissioners’ concerns.
Steve Kandra, Klamath Water Users Association board member, said
stakeholders are scheduled to meet in Sacramento next week to make
changes to the agreement in preparation of releasing a final
Those changes will mostly revolve around dates and technicalities,
while major components, such as the concept of dam removal, won’t
be removed or modified.
Proponents also are watching the state legislation that would help
pay for dam removal and developing plans to make power for
irrigation affordable in the Basin. Studies on how much sediment
is behind the dams are under way to determine how much is there
and what issues it might contribute to if the dams are removed.
Off-Project irrigators in support of the agreement told
commissioners progress is being made in establishing a way to
provide affordable power, having assurances against environmental
regulations and working with the Klamath Tribes on settling water
conflicts, but that more work is needed.
“We’re tearing each other apart and we need to get back together,”
said Bob Sanders, board member with Upper Klamath Water Users
Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District, told
commissioners that proponents are pursuing building more water
storage in the Basin, but the nature of such a project means it
couldn’t be a condition of the restoration agreement.
Proponents also have pointed out that the delay to this year’s
irrigation season would have been avoided if the restoration
agreement had been in place, as it would have settled various
water supply concerns.
Glenn Spain said the restoration agreement is a chance to correct
some of the West’s most retractable problems.
The Northwest’s regional director for the Pacific Coast Federation
of Fishermen’s Associations is also involved in crafting a final
dam removal agreement, something difficult to do given the
differing viewpoints of stakeholders.
Otherwise, he said his organization is working to keep lawmakers
abreast of the restoration agreement so that it can be acted on
quickly when legislation is needed.
Jeff Mitchell is optimistic about negotiations regarding dam
removal and allocation of water in the Klamath Basin but that much
work remains to be done.
The Klamath Tribal Council member said tribal representatives have
continued to participate in talks about removing four dams on the
Klamath River and also are meeting with off-Project irrigators to
address their concerns. Those talks must continue in order for the
disputes over water to be resolved..
Legislation at the state and federal levels is needed to move
forward. Most importantly, he said there needs to be strong
consensus in the off-Project areas of people willing to work with
the Tribes and other stakeholders.
“It’s really up to the community now to decide whether to get this
done,” he said.
While some environmental groups support the restoration agreement,
others, such as Oregon Wild, oppose it and are continuing to
monitor its progress and the possibility to challenge it.
The environmental organization was left out of discussions about
the agreement after much of the rest of the stakeholders had moved
on. Spokesman Sean Stevens said Oregon Wild does have allies
involved in talks and they are now playing the role of a watch
“When we got the boot, we didn’t stop working there,” he said.
Stevens said the agreement doesn’t contain sufficient protections
for fish and wildlife refuges. Dam removal also is not guaranteed
and the organization believes any dam removal agreement would
contain enough loopholes to aid PacifiCorp in not removing the
A final version of the restoration agreement and dam removal
agreement aren’t yet available, but Stevens said Oregon Wild may
pursue legal action against the documents’ supporters if
Siskiyou County Supervisor Jim Cook said the board of supervisors
and county are still actively involved in the restoration
agreement and that headway is being made in addressing some of the
Supervisors voted to oppose the agreement because it calls for dam
removal, which could negatively impact property taxes and property
Klamath County is the only county in the Basin that has not taken
a stance on the restoration agreement, and commissioners said they
continue to seek answers and information to their questions and
look for a way to participate in discussions.
Commissioners said they are particularly concerned the document
doesn’t make a strong enough call for increased water storage.
Commissioners Al Switzer and Cheryl Hukill have also commented
they don’t support dam removal, though Switzer has commented that
it is a decision left to PacifiCorp.
Commissioner John Elliott said the county is looking for a way for
him to continue participating in discussions with stakeholders on
The county stopped its involvement in the talks after county
counsel Dan Bunch raised concerns about an elected official
participating in closed door meetings..
About the Klamath water agreement
Stakeholders met regularly for years in closed meetings to develop
the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, addressing water and
related issues. Among its conditions:
Money to the Klamath Tribes to acquire the Mazama Tree Farm.
Help to irrigators by stabilizing water supplies and more
affordable power rates.
Removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River to restore
Government officials and representatives of PacifiCorp signed a
tentative agreement in November to move toward dam removal and
have until June 30 to craft a final version.