takes on 2000 per cent power rate increase
Whitsett earns ovation from fellow
caucus members and ire from Willamette Weekly
Klamath Courier report, June 1, 2005
KLAMATH - When PacifiCorp announced it’s
intention to raise the Klamath irrigators’ power
rate 2000 per cent in 2006, Oregon Senator Doug
Whitsett, District 28, introduced a bill to diminish
the impacts. This has brought widespread support
from all but the environmentalists, power companies
and tribes. They see this as a means to eradicate
Klamath irrigators from the basin.
History of Klamath
Before the Klamath Reclamation Project was built,
very little, if any, water flowed from the Klamath
Basin into Klamath River, depending on the snow and
rainfall. Sometimes Link River dried up.
The Klamath Project, paid for in full by the Klamath
Basin irrigators, would provide free regulated water
for the Bureau of Reclamation to manage for power.
This free water would allow reasonable power rates
for cities and rural customers alike. The power
company in 1915 decided that they wanted to control
the flows. So negotiations were started whereby the
power company would build Link River Dam, take care
of claims for damages and regulate the lake subject
to government supervision and subject to supplying
all water needed for irrigation purposes first.
Irrigators and Pacific Power became partners,
negotiating a reasonable power rate 50 years ago,
passed by Congress.
James Ottoman, Malin farmer, said the Klamath River
Basin Compact was written to include only the waters
in the Upper Klamath River Basin. The writers of the
Klamath Compact realized the importance of
protecting the waters of the Upper Basin permanently
after 90 percent of the Trinity River was diverted
to the Sacramento River upon completion of the
Shasta Dam in 1945. They produced a document that
included protection for water quality as well as
protection for irrigation use, Indian rights of the
upper Klamath Tribes, wildlife, economical power
rates and proper drainage.
The power rate
Last year PacifiCorp announced that they plan to
raise the rates of the Klamath Basin irrigators 2000
percent. For example, Tulelake Irrigation District
pump #1, with a current power rate of $77 would be
$6362. Now it does not seem to matter to PacifiCorp
that the irrigators built and paid for the project
that puts free regulated water in the river. It does
not matter that many of the irrigators will not be
able to afford the higher rate.
As a Department of Agriculture official told the
Courier, "They got a sweetheart deal. The power
companies got free water to make power because of
the construction of the Klamath Project, paid for by
the irrigators, so the power companies should
continue to offer the irrigators a reasonable rate."
That’s where Senator Whitsett comes in. Having
lived on a horse ranch near Bonanza and having spent
many years as a veterinarian in the Klamath Basin,
Whitsett was just beginning to enjoy his retirement,
then the 2001 water shutoff struck. He was involved
in Water for Life, and also attended every water
meeting possible. He knew the people and the issues.
When asked to run for Senate he said yes.
So when PaciCorp announced their proposed 2000
percent rate increase, and knowing the devastation
that would result, Whitsett sponsored a bill that
would not allow the rates to increase over 50
percent per year in Oregon.
Whitsett told the Courier, "In all fairness, the
contract should be renewed. It represents a
continuation of a value given for a value received
agreement. PP&L received the flow of the river for
hydropower generation that benefits all power users
in exchange for providing low cost power for food
Willamette Week blasts Whitsett
Willamette Week’s editorial board began its spin
with, "We'll give this week's Rogue, Sen. Doug
Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls), an "A" for audacity but
an "F'' for fairness and disclosure." The article
calls the irrigators’ negotiated power rate an
annual $10 million subsidy which comes out of
Portland ratepayer’s pockets. They call Klamath
family farmers "juice hogs" and "welfare kings."
At the same time as Willamette editors were
fabricating their ‘facts,’ this freshman senator got
an ovation from his fellow caucus members in last
week’s caucus meeting.
Whitsett said Senate Bill 1058, as introduced, would
have required electric utilities to mitigate
potential "rate shock" that occurs when rate
increases exceed 50 percent in any 12 month period.
The bill was intended to protect all energy
consumers against unsustainable utility rate
increases. However, it became apparent that the bill
had to be tailored to Klamath to gain the wide
support needed to pass the legislation and provide
Klamath irrigators with much needed protection from
"rate shock. "The rate shock measure introduced in
the Oregon Senate is meant to act as a safety net in
the unlikely event that negotiations for the
continuation of the current power rates do not
result in favorable rates for the irrigators," said
Whitsett. He said he is very optimistic about
"I don’t doubt that to many people in Portland,
the interests, concerns and way of life of rural
Oregonians seem ‘roguish.’ That is why we have had
to endure years of attack on our way of life. They
have shut down our forests, leaving us financially
vulnerable and unable to provide effectively for our
schools and communities. They have imposed
environmental restrictions and an endless number of
boards, commissions, plans and administrative rules
that always seem to neglect or marginalize the rural
way of life. They have meddled in our way of life
and then complained that we are not financially able
to ‘pull our own weight.’"
Since PacifiCorp/Scottish Power have chosen to
forsake the irrigators who made their Klamath River
power production possible, many tribes and
environmental groups have jumped on the band wagon
to insist PacifiCorp raise the power rates to
farmers. As Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation
of Fishermen, along with Bill Jaeger of Oregon State
University, so eloquently state, if they raise the
irrigators’ power rates, maybe then they will go
broke and become ‘willing sellers,’ so there will be
more water to send down the river.
Would this land become a government wetland, in
addition to the 94,000 acres already acquired from
ranchers, willing sellers, in the Upper Basin? That
will evaporate 3 ½ acre-feet of water per acre while
irrigators only use 2 acre-feet.
Would it become fallow land, blowing dust like in
2001, drying up shallow wells and causing wrecks and
allowing noxious weeds to spread throughout the
remaining farmland? That is what happened in
Southern California’s Owen’s Lake, now a desert with
dreadful dust storms. All their water is now in L.A.
They all became ‘willing sellers’.
Would the government then have to use taxpayer’s
money, like currently proposed on a refuge in
Oregon, to grow the crops to feed the waterfowl? In
the Klamath Basin waterfowl eat over 70 million
pounds of feed, half coming from the farms.
Farmers have spent millions of dollars converting
fields from flood irrigation to sprinklers to
conserve water, but that would all have to revert to
flood irrigation. As in all recent man-made Klamath
crises, some farmers would go broke. Some would have
heart attacks and auctions. But the community at
large has no intention of packing up and leaving.
They are still negotiating.
Together, with representatives like Senator Whitsett
pulling for the farm and ranching families and
communities, Klamath irrigators will find a way to
For information on all the bills that Senator
Whitsett is sponsoring, visit his legislative
$2 first 2 months