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Farm Bureau calls for careful study of Klamath dams


Issue Date: September 1, 2010 by Christine Souza, Assistant Editor

Noting that the proposal will affect farmers and ranchers in a wide area of northeastern California, the California Farm Bureau Federation has urged state and federal agencies to conduct a thorough review and consider all potential impacts of a plan to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. The dams, owned by the Portland, Ore.-based utility company PacifiCorp, would be removed as part of a plan to restore the salmon population in the river.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the California Department of Fish and Game have collected comments from the public concerning the issues, alternatives, mitigation measures and significant effects to be considered in their environmental review of removing the dams.

"This is one of the largest reversals of water infrastructure in the United States," said Jack Rice, CFBF associate counsel, "so the environmental review needs to be extremely thorough and that is what we're calling for."

With many Farm Bureau members owning or operating farms within the Klamath River Basin or on tributaries to the Klamath River that are downstream of the federal Klamath Project service area, CFBF did not take a position on the proposed removal. It recommended that the environmental review be thorough and do the following:

  • Analyze a range of alternatives;
  • Consider and plan for new and updated information;
  • Consider effects on landowners, communities and industries;
  • Analyze the impact of dam removals on all water rights;
  • Clarify what it means for the salmon population to be restored;
  • Analyze climate change impacts;
  • Evaluate the effects of converting agricultural land to other uses;
  • Analyze stream flows from upland forests;
  • Consider effects of flooding and sediment;
  • Consider ocean conditions.

"This process is so complex that we need to keep track of where it is going," Rice said. "The government agencies will take all of the comments and decide what scope of environmental review they need to do and then begin the environmental review process."

The project to remove the four dams--three in California and one in Oregon--would begin in 2020 under a proposal released by 26 stakeholders including PacifiCorp, Klamath Basin irrigators, native tribes, fishing groups, environmentalists and the U.S., California and Oregon governments. Supporters of the deal, estimated to cost $450 million, say they see it as key to ensuring a secure water supply for Klamath Basin farms while reviving salmon in the river. Those opposed say the dam removal would be economically and environmentally detrimental to Siskiyou County, result in negative impacts to downstream agriculture and affect water quality.

The agreement to move forward with the dam removal, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, is the second part of a two-part deal. The first agreement, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, released in January 2008, is intended to increase water flows for fish, provide greater reliability of irrigation water delivery, undertake basin-scale habitat restoration and make financial investments to ensure the economic viability of Klamath Basin farming and fishing.

The Klamath Water Users Association--whose farmers were denied water in 2001 in order to benefit fish protected under the Endangered Species Act--signed both agreements and said it supports the process.

"This must be a robust and thorough process. Knowing that economic, environmental and other issues would be especially scrutinized is part of what allowed KWUA to ultimately sign the agreements," KWUA executive director Greg Addington said. "Those who oppose removal of any facilities have brought up a variety of other issues such as flood control, contaminants behind dams, the sediment's effect on fish populations, economic issues and others. KWUA has had the position all along that these concerns must be addressed and answered before any decision can be made and we still hold that view."

The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, which represents members both within the Klamath Basin and downstream, said protecting water rights is of utmost importance.

"Whatever the determination is, water rights throughout the county must be respected and adhered to and absolutely no taking or reduction of any landowner's water right should occur should the dams come out," said rancher Jeff Fowle, a Siskiyou County Farm Bureau director.

Fowle said he believes state and federal agencies have shown "a lack of respect for property and water rights, and it would appear to many of us that they are losing sight of the big picture and fail to recognize in the state of California that water is necessary to feed people."

Sean Curtis, a director on the Modoc County Farm Bureau board, said that there should be comprehensive analysis regarding the removal of the dams.

"Whether you are for or against taking the dams, I don't know how any rational person can be opposed to an extensive analysis of the information," Curtis said. "This is likely going to be precedent-setting and probably won't be the last time we see an attempt to do something like this. If we can get them to do an adequate job of analysis, that will carry over to the next attempt."

Curtis said federal agencies should also look more thoroughly at potential socioeconomic impacts of the plan.

"In our experience, federal agencies are always shy on their socioeconomic analysis," he said. "We understand that socioeconomic impacts never override the environmental side unless they are substantial. We've been looking at non-substantial socioeconomic analysis involved in the Klamath Basin and elsewhere for years."

Federal and state agencies collected comments on issues and impacts to be addressed in upcoming environmental review documents in compliance with state and federal law, Rice said. The documents are being prepared for the decision on whether to remove all or part of the four Klamath River hydroelectric dams.

The secretary of the interior must determine whether, in his judgment, removal of the dams will advance restoration of the salmon fisheries of the Klamath Basin and if it is in the public interest. If Interior Secretary Ken Salazar agrees to remove the dams, the governors of California and Oregon--who have both expressed support for restoring salmon habitat along the Klamath River--are to respond within 60 days.

For additional information about the scientific evaluation and the environmental analysis process, look online at www.klamathrestoration.org.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted 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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