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No Deal Better Than Bad Deal
Felice Pace, Capitol Press Opinion
December 19, 2008

Your lead editorial in the Nov. 28 edition calls the "Agreement in Principle" on Klamath dams "a step in the right direction." The main reason you give to justify your conclusion is that diplomacy and negotiations are preferable to conflict and litigation.

This reasoning is difficult to disagree with. In fact, all 28 groups which joined together over two years ago to negotiate Klamath water issues did agree with Capital Press editors - that is why they devoted countless hours to the negotiations.

As part of the Klamath Forest Alliance I supported the negotiations and KFA's river coordinator - Petey Brucker - participated actively in the endless meetings. Oregon Wild participated in the negotiations too until they - and Water Watch - were (illegally?) removed from the group. Northcoast Environmental Center and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations remain in the Klamath Settlement Group but - like many off-project irrigators - they say they need changes in the water deal before their organizations could sign it.

Meanwhile, the board of directors of the Klamath Water Users Association - which represents irrigation interests on the federal Klamath Project - has passed a resolution saying that the water deal cannot be changed. The Klamath Tribes have made similar statements, and the lead negotiator for the Yurok Tribe suggested in a recent draft letter (which was mistakenly sent to the wrong person) that organizations should be forced to endorse both the water deal and the "Agreement in Principle" on the dams if they want to remain in negotiations.

All this points to a lesson which history has taught over and over: Whether an agreement produces peace and stability or more conflict depends on what is actually in the agreement. A prime historical example is the West's "settlement" with Adolf Hitler. The Munich Agreement of 1938 is widely believed to have abetted Hitler's drive to domination and therefore contributed to making World War II both more likely and more deadly.

Most of the "Off-Project" Klamath irrigators - those who do not get their water from the Bureau of Reclamation - oppose the Water Deal because it calls on them to give up 30,000 acre feet of water while "project irrigators" get a guaranteed supply.

I'm with these folks. If an additional 10,000 to 15,000 acres of land needs to be taken out of irrigation to reduce water demand, all farmers - "on" and "off" project - should share the pain. And there is only one reason why shared pain is not in the water deal. A small number of powerful irrigators want to continue to lease and farm vast acreages of private and public land and they want to keep lease prices low by keeping as much land as possible within the Klamath Project up for lease.

This is not the only problem in the water deal but it is the reason I call that small group of powerful irrigators the "irrigation elite," and it is one of many reasons why the Klamath Water Deal - if it ever becomes law - will create more rather than less conflict.

There are many reasons why the Klamath Water Deal as a whole should be scrapped and why a decision on what to do with PacifiCorp's dams should not be linked to a water deal which - because it requires new subsidies and exemptions or virtual exemptions from several bedrock state, federal and common laws - requires passage of state and federal legislation. One of those reasons is the agreement's unequal and unfair treatment of "off-project" irrigators.

No agreement is preferable to a bad agreement.

Felice Pace has resided in the Klamath River Basin since 1975. He has been active on Klamath River water and fish issues since 1986. Pace blogs on Klamath River issues at klamblog.blogspot.com

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.

Klamath Deal a Step in Right Direction
Capitol Press Editorial
November 27, 2008

The many groups and individuals in the Klamath Basin had a choice to make. Though the situation was exceedingly complicated, it boiled down to this: They could either sit down and attempt to untangle the many issues that have strangled progress in the region, or they could go back to the courts or work the backrooms in Washington, D.C., Sacramento and Salem to try to achieve their goals.

It is to the benefit of all that most of the parties chose the route of diplomacy and to work for a fair settlement of the issues facing them and everyone in the basin, which straddles the California-Oregon border.

The issues

Has there ever been a more complicated set of facts facing any region? Though farmers in California's Imperial and Central valleys and in Idaho's Snake River valley and Washington and Oregon's Columbia River valley have gone through the regulatory wringer on numerous occasions, those issues are no more complicated - or vexing - than those facing the Klamath Basin.

They include, but are not limited to, tribal rights, power generation and affordability, endangered species of fish and the availability of water for irrigation. Add to that the fact that the contested hydroelectric dams are downstream - rather than upstream - of the primary land served by most irrigation diversions, plus a couple of interbasin irrigation diversions, and you have a complex playing field.

During the course of years of negotiations, removal of four dams - Irongate, J.C. Boyle, and Copco 1 and 2 - along the Klamath River in California emerged as the key to any agreement. Though environmental and Indian groups have sought a way to return the river to its free-flowing state to restore endangered salmon, other groups have seen the dams as the foundation of an intricate latticework of infrastructure that produces low-cost electricity and provides water to producers around the area.

The agreement provides an adequate time frame for PacifiCorp, which owns the dams, to replace the power the dams generate. In an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior earlier this month, PacifiCorp and the states of California and Oregon will fund the cost of removing the dams with $200 million in customer surcharges and a $250 million general obligation bond that California will issue.

The time will also be used to study the environmental effects of dam removal.

The agreement also has detractors, including some off-project water users and Siskiyou County, Calif.

Some off-project water users believe their water rights are not adequately protected in the deal. Some 30,000 acre feet of water rights would be retired. They also question giving up low-cost, reliable power from the dams when fish ladders could allow fish passage much more efficiently.

"There are other options besides dam removal, but they don't even want to talk about that," Tom Mallams, a hay farmer and president of the Klamath Off-Project Water Users, told the Capital Press.

Siskiyou County officials want to know the economic impact of the dam removal on the local economy before signing off on the proposal. Describing the dams as "essential" and an "integral part" of the county, the officials oppose the Klamath Basin agreement and have threatened to sue to stop it.

Proponents, however, maintain that the agreement is part of an ongoing effort and not a done deal. Steve Kandra, a farmer and board member of the Klamath Water Users Association, which took part in the negotiations, sees it as a "milepost in the process."

He urges critics to become a part of the solution instead of standing on the outside.

"If people have things that need to be polished up and updated, they need to make a decision to be in the program," Kandra said.

Other off-project water users support the agreement and see it as a way to provide stability for farmers and ranchers.

"The train has left the station," Becky Hyde, a rancher and member of the Upper Klamath Water Users' Association, told the Capital Press. "There's really only two options: settle or litigate. Litigation, to me, is a pretty big gamble."

That's a statement with which everyone can agree.

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.