Klamath: 10 Years Later - 2:
Agriculture Faces Higher Electricity Costs
Todd Neeley DTN Aug 16, 2011 Progressive
YREKA, Calif. (DTN) -- When Klamath Basin farmers found their
water being turned off a decade ago to preserve fish, as
directed by the Endangered Species Act and various court orders,
they also learned a tough lesson.
A 2010 agreement on what happens with Klamath Basin water will
lead to the removal of four dams, increasing farmer concerns
about water availability and rising power costs. (Photo courtesy
of Bobjgalindo, Creative Commons license) They got a glimpse of
how many parties could claim interest in and ownership of the
same water they planned to use for crop irrigation, and how
those conflicting interests could affect them.
Ten years later, the issues around water, property rights and
species protection have become even more complicated.
Many basin farmers believe environmentalists are using the ESA
to drive them out of rural areas, and that the region has been
used as a test case for future actions across the country. They
say their story should serve as a warning to farmers across the
In 2001, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shut off irrigator
access to the Upper Klamath Lake in the Klamath Irrigation
Project of southern Oregon and northern California. The action
centered on protecting three endangered fish species.
In the years that followed, discussions continued on what to do
with precious water in the area.
Environmentalists, American Indian tribes, fishing interests,
state government officials, project water users and others
finally signed a Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement in 2010.
The almost-400-page document includes a controversial plan to
remove four basin hydroelectric dams, sets a governance
structure to make water decisions, establishes a drought plan,
identifies funding and establishes fish restoration projects,
among other things.
Not all farmers support the agreement. The involvement of two
user groups, the Klamath Water Users Association and Tule Lake
Irrigation District in California, represented less than 10% of
farmers from the basin.
Yreka, Calif., farmer Rex Cozzalio also said many of farmers
originally involved in Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement
negotiations backed out when they had to agree to the dam
Cozzalio said he believes that "effectively made the vast
majority of ag unrepresented and intentionally subject to
Farmers and some local government officials say the final 2010
agreement was a turning point -- that the document gave outside
interests full authority to control water in southern Oregon and
Siskiyou County, Calif., Commissioner Marcia Armstrong said
county officials had little say in the KBRA.
"Siskiyou County was cut completely out of the plan," she said.
"We're being run over with a bulldozer. We're still discovering
things we had no idea were in the agreement. It's like a new
government extended over us and there's nothing we can do about
it. Congress has not approved any of this."
Farmers fear they've lost available water in the future,
depending on the water needs of area tribes and endangered
POWER LICENSE NOT RENEWED
The KBRA calls for the removal of four hydroelectric dams by
2020, sending a rush of water downstream for the first time in
Off-project irrigators, those who were not part of the original
Klamath River project, fear removal of the dams will lead to
rising electricity rates, pushing agriculture out of the basin
and to the release of toxic sediment that will endanger the
Environmentalists believe removing the dams will result in
improved runs for the endangered coho salmon.
Electricity has already become more expense. While the new
Klamath agreement was being created, regional power provider
PacifiCorp decided not to renew a 50-year dam license agreement
with power users in the basin. That agreement had given users
reduced electricity rates, but in 2006 PacifiCorp said it gave
Klamath farmers an unfair advantage over others outside the
While a 2005 Oregon Senate bill prevented PacifiCorp from
raising power rates by more than 50% each year for the next
seven years, that bill is near expiration. Without the measure,
off-project farmers would have seen power rates jump overnight
from 0.75 cents per kilowatt hour to 8.5 cents per kilowatt
Irrigator power rates are going through the roof, users say.
Beatty, Ore., farmer Thomas Mallams, said one irrigator saw a
rate spike from about $5,000 a year in 2005 to about $60,000
"Some guys could do it, but a guy who has pasture ground -- no
way," Mallams said.
MORE WATER FOR SALMON
Craig Tucker, Klamath coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, one of
the stakeholders in the KBRA, said dam removal will be less
expensive than re-licensing those dams and will help the
"The other thing people say is we're going to lose irrigation
water from the four dams," he said. "They (the dam) provide no
irrigation supplies. There will be more water supply. Fish need
certain flows at certain times of year. There is a lot less
sediment behind the dams than people thought. The sediment is
There is an increasing likelihood the Chinook salmon will be
added to the list of endangered species in the region, adding
more pressure to limited water resources.
The agreement stakeholders struck in recent years sets a cost
cap of $450 million to remove the four dams. No more than $200
million would come from electricity customers. The plan is to
not increase rates by more than 2%, which already has been
eclipsed in many cases. In addition, the remaining $250 million
would come from the sale of bonds in California.
The Siskiyou County, Calif., Water Users Association and Shasta
Indian Nation offered possible alternatives to dam removal that
have received little attention because of the KBRA.
BLOW TO AGRICULTURE
Higher power rates in Siskiyou County are likely to be an
economic blow to agriculture.
Based on information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the California
Department of Finance, Cal-Trans, California Counties Data Book
and other reports, 19% of the county's population lives below
the poverty line. Agriculture accounts for about 56% of the
total economic output for Siskiyou County. Removing the dams is
predicted to lead to a 14% decline in agricultural crop values
Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users
Association, said power rates will determine the future of
On Sept. 11, 1957, Congress ratified the Klamath River Basin
Compact to manage water resources. Some farmers and government
leaders say the compact still governs the basin.
There has been a massive push for federal funding to help
project irrigators be more efficient with water, by installing
high-pressure sprinkler systems and other equipment, since 2001.
Such systems use less water, but require more electricity; there
is an increasing need for energy at a time when dams are likely
to be removed. Without the dams, power supplies become scarce,
Addington said, putting upward pressure on prices.
Geographical challenges will require agriculture to pay a heavy
price because farmers have to pump water to survive in the
basin. In some places farmers are likely to return to flood
irrigating to save money, he said. Costs include the price of
water, plus other fees to the irrigation district and to the
Bureau of Reclamation for drainage pumps.
"The landowner pays three times," Addington said.
In addition, legal battles continue over who had rights to water
in the basin. One of the criticisms of the KBRA is that it
establishes water rights in the project although basin-wide
adjudication is ongoing, Addington said.