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Future of irrigation: Views differ about water agreement’s impact on agriculture

by Ty Beaver, Herald and News October 16, 2009

(KBC NOTE: Scronce and Hyde's new group represent less than 5% of off project and are at the negotiation table. Hyde works for Sustainable NW which works for the Klamath Tribes. Resource Conservancy represents the majority of off project and are denied a seat at the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement table. Why?)

Karl Scronce, an irrigator off the Klamath Reclamation Project, says that all off-Project irrigators would receive equal treatment under a Klamath River dam removal agreement and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

But Tom Mallams, another off-Project irrigator, said the two agreements would doom irrigated agriculture in the Klamath Basin.

Other Klamath River Basin stakeholders agree dam removal and the water settlement will impact irrigators, but they, like Mallams and Scronce, don’t agree how.

Will all off-Project irrigators really receive equal treatment under the dam removal agreement and KBRA?

Off-Project irrigator Tom Mallams said the power rate benefits in the dam removal agreement unfairly impact off-Project irrigators.

The agreement requires those seeking affordable power to join the Klamath Water and Power Agency, or KWAPA, something only on-Project irrigators can do, according to written rule.

“As it’s written right now, they can’t treat us fairly,” Mallams said.

And there are still problems with rights to water provided in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, he added, because some stakeholders are trying to override the state’s water adjudication process.

Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe of California, said those who worked on the agreements sought to provide affordable power to irrigators who historically benefited from a low power rate under a previous contract with PacifiCorp.

They’ve also tried to provide help for willing off-Project irrigators to resolve water claims with the Klamath Tribes and others and ensure access to the resource, Tucker said.

Steve Rothert of the environmental group American Rivers said the benefits of the agreements are potentially available to anyone.

“Not everyone automatically gets the benefits, but if they sign up and endorse (the agreements) they will receive them,” he said.

Off-Project irrigator Karl Scronce said his organization tried to minimize issues regarding off-Project irrigator participation in affordable power rates, but he said there likely would be eligibility requirements. However, he said he wants as many people to participate as possible.

“We’re just trying to give them something to participate in,” he said.

Could the agreements really doom irrigated agriculture in the Klamath Basin?

Mallams, in an article published in the Sept. 29 Herald and News about the agreements, said: “It’s going to doom irrigated agriculture in the Klamath Basin.”

Not everyone agrees.

“I don’t know how he could reach that conclusion when the KBRA is providing reliability to on-Project and off-Project water users,” said Rothert.

The agreements would go far to resolve disputes over water claims, as evidenced by the settlement between the Klamath Tribes and on-Project irrigators, he said, and they also would make the stakeholders responsible to each other, preserve the watershed and help its communities to survive.

“Sure, part of the deal does require some water to be restored to the rivers but only a fraction of what’s been diverted,” Rothert said about what off-Project irrigators would provide in the agreements.

Tucker characterized Mallams’ statement and those similar to it as fear mongering, adding that other irrigators have said the agreements would help them survive. He pointed out that farmers are traditionally ideologically opposed to dam removal because they can contribute to irrigation, but the dams on the Klamath River have not.

Off-Project irrigators also have not had the same experience as those on the Project, who’ve had to contend with a water shutoff in 2001 and the possibility of others ever since.

Mallams stood by his comments, but added that the agreement is fixable, especially if stakeholders returned to the framework they agreed to in 2007. Unfortunately, the other stakeholders have refused to go back to the negotiation table, shooting down the options he and others have provided, he said.

“The way it’s written, I feel we’re doomed,” he said.

Scronce said he doesn’t agree with Mallams’ vision, but he’s still waiting to see viable alternatives to the agreements.

“I don’t think anyone denies there are good alternatives, I just hear a lot of negative talk and stone throwing about these agreements,” he said.

Side Bar

Second take: The water agreement

Editor's Note: When stakeholders released a Klamath dam removal agreement for review, a number of people expressed various opinions about it and its possible effects.

The Herald and News will take a weekly look at a variety of those opinions, as well as other questions posed by readers, by reviewing them with other stakeholders and observers.

This latest agreement was a year in the making and would take out four hydro-power projects downstream of Klamath Falls. It is one element of the larger Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which deals with water rights, power supply, Tribal lands, fisheries and more.

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