Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Residents sound off at KHSA meeting
Yreka, Calif. - The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Thursday evening to “stay engaged in the process” that could lead to removal of the hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River owned by PacifiCorp, parent company of Pacific Power.
The board hosted two special meetings Thursday to discuss and listen to comments from representatives of the U.S. Department of Interior, the state of California, PacifiCorp and from members of the public.
The first meeting was held at 1 p.m. at the Miners Inn Convention Center; the second meeting was held at 6 p.m. in the same location.
About 200 people in total attended one or the other of the meetings. During both meetings, board chair Michael Kobseff asked for a show of hands of those opposing removal and of those supporting removal. Between both meetings, only one person held up his hand in support of removal.
The 6 p.m. meeting adjourned well after 10. Following all presentations and comments from the audience, the board met in closed session for about 15 minutes. When they re-opened the meeting, each supervisor made some comments followed by the vote to stay engaged.
At the later meeting, county counsel Thomas Guarino made some preliminary comments and then the board and audience heard from John Bezdek, lead negotiator on the Klamath dams situation for the U.S. Department of Interior; from Mark Stopher, environmental program manager for the Resources Agency of the state of California; and from Dean Brockbank, vice president and general counsel for PacifiCorp Energy.
Guarino noted that three prior forums have been held by the board on the Klamath dams topic. He reiterated the board’s decision to reject the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which has been developed by a coalition of 26 non-elected, non-governmental organizations representing environmental concerns, some fisheries organizations, some tribal interests, a group of farmers on the Klamath Project near Tulelake and others.
Guarino mentioned that the board has not seen a copy of the latest proposed KBRA.
Bezdek assured him that a copy would be provided.
Guarino told the federal and state representatives that the county is not satisfied with the science done on this issue so far, and claimed that the county needs funding to study the intricacies of that science.
Guarino also mentioned the social and economic impacts the supervisors feel dam removal would have on the county. He demanded that, in the event that removal takes place, the county be provided with sufficient money to mitigate the negative impacts.
He cited federal forest policy, which has led to devastation of the county’s timber industry. He suggested that dam removal would be another example of federal disregard for the livelihoods of county residents.
Guarino also briefly spoke of social justice. He recounted how farmers had been enticed to the Tulelake area to farm with the benefit of water from the dam system. Farmers have been there now for generations, he said, with federal blessings and encouragement. Now, he opined, many will be out of business if the dams are removed.
Addressing Stopher, Guarino noted the board’s dissatisfaction with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, which he accused of being blatantly pro-dam removal. He alleged there were flaws in the methodology of the water board in developing TMDLs (total maximum daily loads of pollutants) for the Klamath River.
Guarino then questioned the integrity of the entire dam removal process.
Bezdek, of the Department of the Interior, said he was speaking on behalf of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
He said many questions regarding the advisability of dam removal are “hard to answer yes or no.
“This is where science and engineering come together with politics,” he said.
Bezdek continued, “We’re trying to figure out how to fix a problem, and we don’t want to create a bigger problem doing that.”
He said that people have made up their minds, “but the secretary [of Interior] has not.”
Brockbank of PacifiCorp complimented the supervisors for “taking it so seriously.” He said he wanted to “tip his hat to counsel Tom Guarino.”
Brockbank reiterated the points he had discussed at the earlier session.
Stopher, representing the state of California, said the state realizes there are many uncertainties about water quality and fish restoration in the Klamath.
“We’re trying to find an agreement,” he said. “That’s what the Hydroelectric Settlement and the KBRA try to do.”
Stopher said in March of 2012, the Secretary of Interior will make a determination. Then, the governors of both Oregon and California must agree, he continued.
Then, an environmental study will be done, he said, and explained that the estimated $450-million cost for dam removal would be shared by the two states.
“We are at ground zero,” said Supervisor Marcia Armstrong. “We will bear the costs and impacts of sediment and flooding, while property values decline and recreational businesses suffer.”
“What are our benefits?” Armstrong asked.
“Salmon and steelhead restoration,” replied Stopher.
Many in the audience groaned, while others laughed.
Responding to a question from Ed Valenzuela, Brockbank pointed out that local Pacific Power customers pay three or four times less than electricity users in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Brockbank said this rate increase would generate about $180 million from Oregon customers and about $20 million from California customers, who are much fewer in number.
Supervisors Jim Cook, Armstrong and Grace Bennett once again asked Bezdek when the board could expect to receive a copy of the KBRA.
“I will make sure the board has a copy within the next 24 hours,” replied Bezdek.
In response to another question from Supervisor Bennett, he said by Dec. 18, negotiations concerning the hydro agreement and the KBRA will be concluded.
When Cook pointed out that the county had found an error in the model being used by the water board to determine TMDL levels in the Klamath and its tributaries, Dennis Lynch of the U.S. Geological Survey, who was in the audience, said that was correct and that the water board is making changes to the model.
“That’s an example of why the county needs money for studies,” said Cook. “We found that flaw.”
“There seems to be a threat here, that money for the county to look at these studies will not be forthcoming if we don’t sign these agreements,” Cook continued.
“I don’t see it that way. The county does not have to sign in order to get financial assistance,” said Bezdek.
“I think it would be better if the county signed, but you don’t have to,” Bezdek continued.
Chair Kobseff asked, “Does the county have to sign the KBRA in order to approve the hydro agreement?”
Bezdek, Stopher and Brockbank each said, “Yes.”
Guarino said, “If the KBRA you’re sending us is still not final, the board cannot approve it. We would need 30 days to examine it and have public meetings after the KBRA is approved.
“We’re here to make sure the studies are done correctly and thoroughly,” he continued.
“We’re not trying to screw up the works.”
Public comments were taken for about 90 minutes. Most comments were negative about dam removal.
“My family has been here for 104 years; my grandkids are seventh-generation. My ancestors were always proud to share the land with the Shasta people. I remember the stench in summer [of dead fish] before the dams were put in. In the old days, there was flooding in the winter. What if the salmon don’t come back, after spending all that money?” said Gary Rainey of Hamburg..
“I am a member of the Salmon River Restoration Council. Our mission is to restore the Salmon River and to promote economic stability. In looking at the information, we think dam removal would be good for the fish, especially the Spring Chinook salmon. There will be other socio-economic benefits,” said Pete Brucker of Salmon River.
Frank Tallerico of Yreka said, “All the money spent on fisheries improvement has not made any difference. Millions of dollars have been spent. The KBRA wrestles authority away from the people. The AIP protects PacifiCorp and nobody else.
“Take careful consideration before you are blackmailed into doing anything,” Tallerico warned the board of supervisors.
Following the closed session for deliberations, each supervisor made some comments about the settlement agreements and their decisions not to sign anything at this time.
Armstrong: “What I heard was not only ‘no,’ but ‘hell, no.’ The people do not want the dams removed. This happens over and over again. Everybody gets to be at the table except us – only the special interests. I am definitely not in favor of the KBRA.”
Bennett: “I want to know who is responsible if this [dam removal] doesn’t work. I want the city of Yreka’s water taken care of. I used to live downriver and know what it’s like when it floods and when it dries up in the summer. However, I want to stay involved.”
Valenzuela: “One of my constituents told me to be careful, you only get one chance to negotiate with the federal government. I still haven’t gotten all the answers; I want to read the latest KBRA. I have other questions. I think we need to stay engaged.”
Cook: “I don’t want to be the first one to sign this; I don’t want to vote one way or the other. I’m very concerned about the link between the hydro settlement and the KBRA. Will this bring back fish? Will it provide clean energy? I want to see the document.”
Kobseff, addressing the audience said: “You’re seeing what we’ve been dealing with; you underscored what we’ve been saying all along. The state and federal governments are seeing how serious you are. If it’s tied to the KBRA, we can’t vote on it. And we haven’t seen the KBRA; it’s being negotiated behind closed doors.”
Cook: “The county counsel came up with a list of 10 things that could make the hydro agreement better.. I think we should approve them and send them on to the Big Three [federal and state representatives and PacifiCorp]. I want to stay engaged until we see the final document.”
Kobseff: “It’s important that these representatives from the state and the fed hear from the people of this county. And we have accomplished that.”
The vote was then taken on a motion to stay engaged in the process and to present the 10 items for improvement of the hydro agreement prepared by county counsel to the state and federal governments. The motion passed 5-0.
Page Updated: Saturday November 21, 2009 01:34 AM Pacific
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