The H&N View: A worse future beckons without water settlement But a better future depends on removing Klamath dams

The H&N View: A worse future beckons without water settlement But a better future depends on removing Klamath dams

Posted: Saturday, October 25, 2014 11:58 pm The H&N View: A worse future beckons without water settlement<>

Basin water issues remain unsettled and time is quickly slipping away.

Think things can’t get worse? They can. And if there isn’t a serious enough push from the local area to move the water settlement legislation in Congress, they will.

Several years have been spent developing good will among those who speak for irrigators and tribes and other water users. That resulted in the legislation pending in Congress. Things need to move. If not, what happens next? What happens after 2014?

While leaders of the various groups have the general support of those they represent, that support isn’t unanimous and that applies to both the Tribes and irrigators. There is pressure from within to come up with results.

The Klamath Tribes agreed this year not to fully enforce the water rights granted them by the state. That left more water this year for those on the 240,000-acre Klamath Reclamation Project, who had negotiated a separate water agreement with the Tribes. How long the agreement lasts is up to the Tribes.

Water is the Basin’s lifeblood, but Basin farmers and ranchers, who are part of an industry that produced $290 million in Klamath County sales last year, don’t control the water. It was over-promised many decades ago, tribal treaties were largely disregarded and there was no such thing as the Endangered Species Act.

The treaties are now being enforced, most noticeably through adjudication that awarded the highest-priority water rights to the Klamath Tribes. Environmental concerns are now a major part of water management and there are endangered fish species at both ends of the river.


Other key points

Can there be an overall agreement on water allocations in the Basin without dam removal?

The answer’s simple: No.

PacifiCorp owns the four dams on the Klamath River targeted for elimination. Their removal is inextricably woven into the fabric of the agreements pending in Congress. PacifiCorp has already said it wants to remove the dams, rather than make improvements, which would mean less power at a higher cost. Oregon and California public utility commissions in Oregon and California have given their approval.

Ratepayers have already begun paying a charge for dam removal through a 2 percent surcharge with a cap of $200 million for ratepayers.

It’s worth remembering, too, that private enterprise built the dams, private enterprise ran them and private enterprise wants to remove them.

What happens if the settlement agreements die in Congress? If it decided to continue operating the dams, PacifiCorp would have to make the dam improvements. It has more incentive to remove them, though, than it has to keep them running.

Who pays if that happens? If federal participation in dam removal is removed along with the failure of the agreements, there’s no cap for the ratepayers, who are the company’s major revenue source. Who else? The shareholders? In your dreams.

How do the Klamath Tribes figure into this? Adjudication gave the tribes priority water rights, which the tribes exercised and many ranchers and farmers in the Upper Klamath Basin lost irrigation water this year because they had lower priority water rights. These are off-Project water users, whose interests are represented in the proposed agreements languishing in Congress, but weren’t part of earlier proposed legislation.

If the legislation dies, so does the economic help for the Tribes they include. We can’t see much incentive for the Tribes to continue the separate agreement with Project irrigators not to fully enforce their water rights. The Tribes’ primary focus has been to improve the health of the Klamath River and Upper Klamath Lake. That means keeping more water in the lake and sending more water downstream, which squeezes the amount available for irrigation.

What about Rep. Greg Walden’s approach to look for things that the two sides can agree on, start there and work up?

The low-hanging fruit has already been plucked. Besides, the two sides came a tremendous distance in the most recent agreements that incorporated the off-Project irrigators into the settlement proposals, but now things have stalled and need a push.


So what’s the absolute worst-case scenario?

It’s ugly and doesn’t have to happen. Here it is: The legislation dies. The Tribes agreement with Project irrigators also dies. Dry year. No water for irrigation. Dry fields, if you can call them fields. An incredible amount of year-to-year uncertainty that drives down land values and forces farmers and ranchers to leave to make a living. A ripple effect that’s more like a tsunami moving through the local economy. The dams come out anyway because its a good business decision for PacifiCorp, but there’s no cap on what Oregon ratepayers must pay to cover the cost of removal and liability, and no guarantee that California will contribute, as required under the proposed legislation.

How do we prevent it? Build local support for the agreements and successfully push it. Recognize reality. The Basin’s future is lot better with the settlement than without it.


Today’s editorial was written by Forum Editor Pat Bushey.