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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 watching.

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 implement..

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 ongoing.

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 their bills.

Oregon lawmakers

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

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 intimidated.

“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 off-Project irrigators.

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 document.

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 Association.

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.

Klamath Tribes

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 dog.

“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 dams..

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 necessary.

Siskiyou County

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 county’s concerns.

Supervisors voted to oppose the agreement because it calls for dam removal, which could negatively impact property taxes and property values.

Klamath County

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 agreement.

The county stopped its involvement in the talks after county counsel Dan Bunch raised concerns about an elected official participating in closed door meetings..
Side Bar

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 fish passage.

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.

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              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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