Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


Get mad, stop Cob plant
8/20/04 Herald and News viewpoints

If someone comes into your house and takes whatever he wants, without paying for it, what would you call him? That's right, a thief. But what if your elected officials give him permission to do it? Wouldn't you say that they were in cahoots with the thief? Wouldn't you toss them out of office on their ears?

Klamath County Commissioners Al Switzer and John Elliott are about to put a final stamp of approval on a theft of far greater magnitude. It's a theft of water. You'd think that with all the clamor lately for more water, the first thing our leaders would guard is our groundwater. Everybody, it seems, wants Klamath County water. So why on earth would our leaders give it away?

But give it away they are about to do. They're giving it to a powerful octopus-like corporation, Peoples Energy. Peoples Energy used to be partners with Enron, whose top executives are now facing jail time. This huge energy corporation wants to build the Cob power plant in the heartland of Langell Valley. It's bending every rule in the book to accomplish that. Adding insult to injury, Peoples Energy also wants to pay no property taxes for the first 15 years.

In its first draft proposal for the Cob plant, this corporation wanted a water-cooled plant that consumed 7,000 gallons per minute. That's 31 acre-feet per day, over 11,000 acre-feet per year and enough for the water needs of 20,000 families. Our leaders thought it was a fine idea. And if citizens hadn't howled in anger, that might have been approved.

Peoples Energy backed off. They agreed to an air-cooled plant that uses far less - only 480 acre-feet per year. Now our leaders are really enthusiastic. How wonderful for us, they say. Now the thief is stealing much less. We're so happy. We'll just let Cob slide on those pesky property taxes. After all, Cob is going to give us a million dollars a year and jobs to 10 local people.

Peoples Energy is moving in, ruining farmland, pumping hundreds of tons of pollutants annually into our air, raising the background noise level by 50 percent, getting a free ride on property taxes - and we're even giving them our water for free?

Would you let a bum stay in your house rent free, playing loud music and smoking cheap cigars, and not even charge him when he raids your refrigerator? Four hundred eighty acre-feet per year may not sound like much, but it is. It's enough water for a thousand families.

Water is liquid gold. It's the most precious commodity in all the West. Californians are so desperate that they're building desalinization plants to get water at $800 an acre-foot. San Diego farmers pay $650 an acre-foot for water. Los Angeles pumps in water through pipelines hundreds of miles long, and still can't get enough. San Francisco does the same. And it isn't just California. New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Nevada are all running out of water. Las Vegas casinos have to truck in water from out of state.

Nobody has enough cheap water - except Peoples Energy. Because its new Cob plant will sit atop a pristine aquifer from which it can pump free water for the next 40 years, Peoples Energy doesn't care if water goes to $1,000 an acre-foot, which it will, or to $10,000 an acre-foot.

Other power plants in the western United States will be sweating bullets over the cost of the water they need to operate, because other power plants have to buy their water. Not Cob. Cob will have water rights on land zoned for exclusive farm use - thanks to its friends in local politics. Switzer and Elliott will soon be forgotten, but Cob will still have free water.

At $750 an acre-foot, which is what much of California pays now, Cob will be getting $363,000 of water per year free. At $2,000 an acre-foot, which is what water will cost power plants in a few years, Cob will be getting a million dollars worth of water free every year. And still paying no property taxes.

This is a great deal for Klamath County? Why don't we just sell the water on the open market? Route the water southward, and let the California aqueduct system pay us for it. We can pump far less than what Cob insisted was safe for the aquifer and still generate a million dollars a year for Klamath County.

Here's an even better idea. Set up a bottling plant in Langell Valley. Sell that wonderful aquifer water in gallon jugs to supermarkets around the country. Pump exactly what Cob plans to use. At a dollar a jug, that will retail at almost a half-million dollars a day, or $158 million per year. Let's say we make only 10 percent profit. Klamath County would earn $15 million dollars a year - and get 100 new jobs. As the cost of water rises, that bottled water business can earn us $50 million a year. It can be done. It takes only imagination.

Give Rep. Bill Garrard a phone call. Tell him to stop this outrageous water theft now. Call Switzer and Elliott. Tell them if Cob goes in, they're on their way out. Get mad. Tell them not to let this big corporation steal our water. Tell them to stop Cob.

Stan Heidrich


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