Problems With Klamath Water Deal
By Felice Pace, Capitol Press Editorial
June 3, 2008
Thanks for your May 30th article "Dam issue jams Klamath settlement". It dispels the myth – promoted in a near-constant stream of propaganda issuing from those representing the Karuk Tribe – that the proposed Klamath Water Deal and a dam removal agreement with PacifiCorp are parts of the same deal. In reality - and as PacifiCorp implies in the article - the heavily promoted Water Deal makes getting a dam removal deal with PacifiCorp less likely. That is because the Water Deal is full of expensive taxpayer subsidies for some irrigators and certain tribes.
The article also shows that at least some of those who are promoting dam removal don't understand the issues involved. Your article quotes Klamath Riverkeeper Chickizola as saying that "economic arguments are very much on the side of dam removal." While it is true that the cost of dam removal and replacement power are estimated to be much less than fish ladders and other likely relicensing costs, for PacifiCorp the economics favor keeping the dams. That is because they will be able to pass the entire cost of fish ladders and other environmental mitigations to their ratepayers. And they will be allowed to make a 9% profit on every dollar they spend on fish ladders and other environmental mitigation. So, from the standpoint of PacifiCorp and owner Warren Buffett, the best business decision is to keep the dams.
Nevertheless the dams will come down because there is no way they can be legally certified as complying with water quality standards established for the Klamath River. Water quality, not economics, will lead us inevitably to dam removal.
As for the so-called "newly forged coalition" of tribes, irrigators and conservationists, while it is to be hoped that these interests will continue to work together, the Water Deal they are promoting remains incomplete and several of the organizations which developed it now say they can't endorse it unless significant changes are made. The core of the proposed deal would give a guaranteed priority water allocation to one group of irrigators; fish, other irrigators and other water users would have to make due with what is left. During dry years that means that water for salmon would need to be leased from those irrigators with first priority. The idea of leasing water from irrigators to keep Public Trust Resources like salmon alive is not only unsustainable, it is bad water policy.
The proposed Klamath Water Deal is fatally flawed and not politically viable. Because it favors some irrigators over others, does not provide adequately for salmon and threatens to torpedo a dam removal deal it should be abandoned now. Viable elements can proceed independently; there are plenty of opportunities for positive collaboration.Felice Pace
A PacifiCorp Ratepayer
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and as defined under the provisions of "fair use", any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research and for educational use by our membership.
Dam Issue Jams Klamath SettlementPower company process independent of stakeholders agreement.
Mateusz Perkowski, Capital Press
May 30, 2008
The fate of a settlement agreement between irrigators and tribes in the Klamath basin is up in the air as the prospect of dam removal, seen as key to the deal, remains foggy.
Five months after irrigators and tribes struck an agreement that would end legal disputes over water rights between the groups, the deal hasn't moved forward, largely because four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath river appear likely to remain intact for the foreseeable future.
PacifiCorp, the electric utility that owns the dams, isn't willing to remove the dams unless the federal government absolves the company's rate-payers of liability if anything goes wrong and reimburses them for higher rates.
"They need to cover our customers' risks and costs," said Art Sasse, spokesman for the company.
Sasse said the perception that PacifiCorp is holding up the settlement is untrue, since the utility's dam relicensing process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is independent of the agreement hammered out by tribes, irrigators, federal agencies and conservation groups.
"That's not our deal," he said.
PacifiCorp will abide by the relicensing requirements, which may or may not involve dam removal, he said. Typically, the relicensing process lasts about 10 to 15 years, and the company applied for a new license for the Klamath Hydroelectric Project in 2004, Sasse said.
"We're talking years down the road" before a final decision is made, he said.
Of the last six hydroelectric projects that PacifiCorp had applied to relicense, half were decommissioned, Sasse said. Fish ladders were installed at the remaining projects, Sasse said.
No matter how persuasive settlement stakeholders are, dam removal will ultimately hinge on the impact to PacifiCorp's bottom line, said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association.
"It's going to have to be a business decision," he said.
The settlement stakeholders will continue pressing for dam removal, but even if the dams remain in place, Addington said, elements of the agreement could remain viable.
Before the settlement, irrigators, tribes and conservationists were usually at each others' throats in court, he said. Their newly forged coalition is unlikely to break up, regardless of the dams' fate, Addington said.
"If this thing goes away, we're not just going to stop talking to each other," he said.
Even from the financial perspective, though, PacifiCorp may come around to the settlement stakeholders' point of view, said Regina Chichizola, spokeswoman for the Klamath Riverkeeper.
The environmental group has worked closely with several Klamath-area tribes to advocate for dam removal.
"It seems like the economic arguments are very much on the side of dam removal," she said, pointing to a 2006 California Energy Commission study that found removal would be $80 million to $200 million cheaper than building fish ladders.
The delay in the settlement's implementation, however, may have negative repercussions even if the dams are decommissioned.
Since early 2007, the number of similar water rights' settlements between irrigators and tribes has grown from two to 13, said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance.
Most of these settlements also ask the government to fund restoration programs, he said. That means the $985 million Klamath settlement would need to stand in a long queue for money, Keppen said.
"They're going to be competing with other settlements," he said. "Settlements are starting to pop up all over the West. ... More and more, it's becoming accepted that this is how (water) disputes are settled."
Apart from these challenges, the settlement has also drawn the ire of Siskiyou County, Calif., which is opposed to dam removal.
That eventuality would be especially distressing if PacifiCorp doesn't have to bear responsibility for negative effects, said Marcia Armstrong, a district supervisor with the county.
"You could have massive destruction downstream," she said.
The county is worried that carcinogens in the 20 million metric tons of sediment behind the four dams would threaten fish, wildlife and people who use the Klamath River, she said.
"It's like having a poison river running through your community," she said.
Created by log transport on the river, the dioxins in the sediment are "bioaccumulative," meaning they travel up the food chain, Armstrong said. The effect of dam removal on sediment buildup simply isn't well understood, she said.
"This would be the largest dam removal project in the U.S., and the studies haven't been done," said Armstrong. "Not all would go downstream, but there hasn't been a study on how it would move downstream. We think it's premature."
The settlement agreement has also met with disapproval from the Hoopa Valley tribe, which believes the deal makes irrigation a higher priority than fish protection.
The Klamath Off-Project Water Users also oppose the terms of the settlement, said Edward Bartell, a grower and president of the group.
"We see it as directly targeting off-project interests," he said.
While the deal contains assurances for irrigators within the Klamath Project, it doesn't offer similar protection for off-project water use, Bartell said. Also, the agreement doesn't allocate enough money for electricity generation to keep power rates low, he said.
Contrary to its initial purpose, the settlement did not bring off-project interests into consideration, Bartell said. "They decided to divide up their chips rather than abide by their agreements with us."In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and as defined under the provisions of "fair use", any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research and for educational use by our membership.