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Representing Klamath Basin
Sen. Whitsett looks for water user solutions
by DEVAN SCHWARTZ, Herald and News 2/20/13

Editor’s Note: Herald and News reporter Devan Schwartz is visiting our state representatives at the capitol this week to give readers a look at the legislative workings.

SALEM — In May 2005, State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Dist. 28, moved a bill through the Legislature that slowed rate increases for power users in the Klamath Basin. He was declared “Rogue of the Week” by Portland’s Willamette Week publication.

The term “rogue” has been recently co-opted as a term of empowerment by the Sarah Palins of the world, although Willamette Week used the term pejoratively in critique of Whitsett’s “stealth bailout of the Klamath welfare kings masquerading as a consumer-protection measure.”

In a recent interview in his Salem office, Whitsett introduced the story as a victory for his Klamath Basin constituents. The area’s cheap power allowed regional agriculture to develop and be maintained with 1917 power prices for a long time, he said.

Whitsett added that this isn’t just an historical situation — Pacific Power, the utility operating the Klamath Project’s hydroelectric dams, has said tariff rates, unsubsidized prices paid by other users, will come fully into effect by March. The Klamath Basin will no longer get a special deal on power, though Whitsett says he is still committed to empowering his constituents. And, according to the state senator, the prospect of removing four dams on the Klamath River isn’t a good deal scientifically or for ratepayers.

He argues that removing the lower dams won’t make a difference to water quality, so long as the dams closer to Upper Klamath Lake (Link River and Keno) continue fostering conditions for algae blooms.

In addition, Whitsett thinks the sediment from the Iron Gate, JC Boyle and Copco 1 and 2 dams would become “an ecological disaster for generations” if they were removed via the current Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.

Yet even a rogue finds himself seeking coalitions and partnerships. In terms of water issues, Whitsett is looking both up- and down stream for solutions.

For one, he is working with the Coastal Caucus to help learn more about the behavior of anadromous chinook once they’ve entered the Pacific Ocean from the Klamath River.

Whitsett is also pursuing further water allocation and water storage from the Columbia River; he has connected with an association of governors to discuss the 2014 start of renegotiations for the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada.

Whitsett serves on the joint ways and means committee, the general government subcommittee and the public safety subcommittee. He has sought committee appointments on issues of agriculture and natural resources, though all such appointments originate with Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney.

Chief of Staff Judy Trego said Whitsett’s number one priority this session will be Public Employee Retirement System reforms.

“As you know,” Trego said, “the rising cost of PERS is hurting our schools, municipalities and other much-needed critical services in our district.”

To communicate with Sen. Whitsett or his staff during the legislative session, email sen. dougwhitsett@state.or.us   or call 503-986-1728 503-986-1728 .

H&N photo by Devan Schwartz

Sen. Doug Whitsett considers testimony during a public safety committee meeting at the state capitol Monday.





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