Klamath Stakeholders Weigh in on Expiring Water Deal Agreement

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday, Nov. 13, for an amendment to extend the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) for two more years.

Humboldt County 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn said, “My decision to extend this for two years comes down to the fact that I don’t see another solution.”

The KBRA, paired with the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), is part of an arrangement to dismantle four dams owned by PacifiCorp, guarantee water for irrigators, and reintroduce salmon to parts of the Klamath River currently blocked by the dams.

Humboldt County and 41 other entities originally signed the agreement, including local and state governments, federal agencies, Klamath Basin farmers, PacifiCorp, and three of the seven tribes in the area. The KBRA will be extended to Dec. 31, 2014 if all of the groups involved agree.

Community members, representatives of tribal governments, and environmental groups spoke out at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13, against the extension and the agreement.

Jim Clark, President of the Audubon Society Redwood Region, said, “The opinions of those who don’t support the needs of the irrigators were excluded. This year 20,000 waterfowl died because of insufficient water.”

Hoopa Valley Tribal Councilmember Hayley Hutt, said the KBRA threatens tribal senior water rights, and is simply giveaway to irrigators.

“The KBRA will provide less water to the Klamath River,” Hutt said. “The KBRA’s failure to provide the water the fish need is at the heart of the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s opposition to the deal.”

Pat Higgins, a consulting fisheries biologist from McKinleyville, said, “This is about filling Upper Klamath Lake for farm irrigation, not protecting wildlife.”

Dana Silvernale, chair of the Humboldt County Green Party, said, “There are practices the farmers can do to protect against drought, but the fish can’t.”

“I urge you to make dam removal your priority, and use the FERC process that removed the Condit Dam,” Silvernale said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is responsible for licensing and relicensing hydroelectric dams. In Dec. 2010, Portland-based Pacific Power surrendered their license for the Condit Dam on the White Salmon River just upstream of the Columbia River.

The company decided that removing the 97-year-old dam would be cheaper than paying for the upgrades needed to relicense it.

PacifiCorp finds itself in a similar situation with four of its hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. The oldest, Copco I, was started in 1918 and completed in 1921.

In September 2009, PacifiCorp’s Chairman and CEO Greg Abel, issued a statement that the KHSA would keep “costs and risks as low as possible when compared against the option of relicensing the dams.”

Part of the reason for these lowered costs is that under the agreement, California would pay $250 million of the dam removal costs, and PacifiCorp ratepayers would pay $200 million.

Without the KHSA, and the linked KBRA, the company would be responsible for all of the costs of removing any out-of-license dams.

One speaker said, “This is just taxpayers subsidizing PacifiCorp.”

John Schaeffer said, “The FERC licenses have expired, so let’s insist that the fish ladders that the law requires be built, or the dams come down.”

Hoopa Valley Tribal Communication Coordinator Regina Chichizola said, “The KBRA is nothing but a stalling method for PacifiCorp.”

“There is an air of lawlessness surrounding the KBRA, and there is an air that anyone who doesn’t agree with what the farmers want will get rolled,” Chichizola said.

Other speakers at the Board of Supervisors meeting were supportive of the linked agreements, and urged the supervisors to support a two-year extension of the KBRA.

John Driscoll, from US Congressman Mike Thompson’s office, said Thompson supported the KBRA and the extension.

“Congressman Thompson, I know, believes that it’s too early to give up on the good will developed through these agreements and go back to the adversarial process offered by FERC,” Driscoll said.

Paul Simmons, attorney for the Klamath Water Users Association, said, “In the Upper Basin, those irrigators are pretty much real people and the situation up there is very difficult.”

“This is a reasonable compromise between all the competing interests,” Simmons said.

Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok Tribe, said that the Yurok Tribe supported the agreements and that the FERC process wasn’t an alternative to negotiations.

“Condit was a FERC decision based on a settlement agreement. They won’t give you anything else,” Fletcher said. “It takes a bunch of people sitting down trying to resolve stuff.”
Craig Tucker, Klamath coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, said the Karuk Tribe decided to give the negotiation process two more years.

“I think everybody in this room has the same goal. We want the dams removed and the rivers put back together,” Tucker said.

Humboldt County 3rd District Supervisor, Mark Lovelace made a few comments after the last of the community members finished.

“It’s refreshing to hear people say that the agreements aren’t strong enough in protecting fish,” Lovelace said, “Up in the Upper Basin, all you hear is ‘save our dams’.”

In the end, however, Lovelace said that he wasn’t sure that the “hypothetical” use of FERC would be better than the existing agreements.

The supervisors voted unanimously to sign on to the amendment to extend the KBRA until December 2014, despite their doubts.

“Will we have something in two years, or will we be having this conversation again?” Bohn asked. “I don’t want to be sitting here in two years time looking at another extension.”

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November 26th, 2012

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