Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Klamath River Compact spelled out how water in river was to be used
Published March 20, 2005
The author: Lynn Long has been a farmer on Lower Klamath Lake for 40 years.
By LYNN LONG Guest columnist
Agriculture in the Klamath Basin has come a long way since the 1917 agreement between Copco (now PacifiCorp) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to build Link River Dam.
Not only did construction of the dam provide for storage of water in Upper Klamath Lake for reclamation project farmers but also it regulated the outflow of more than a million acre-feet of water annually to newly constructed hydroelectric generators at Copco No. 1 and No. 2 in Siskiyou County.
Without proper flow control, these dams and powerhouses would have spilled valuable water in the spring and nearly gone dry in the late summer, thus significantly reducing their output and efficiency.
It is important to note that the Reclamation Act of 1902 provided for both the development of irrigation systems and hydropower. Several good examples are Shasta Dam and Grand Coulee Dam. Here at home, Copco, instead of the federal government, was allowed to develop the hydroelectric resources. There were some strings attached, however.
In spite considerable local opposition to both the federal reclamation project and Copco's need for water to run its turbines, the 1917 agreement also called for Copco to supply electricity to the irrigation project at cost. Thus 88 years ago began the core concept of relations between the power company, the Bureau of Reclamation and farmers in the Basin.
As time passed and the economy and population of the region grew, so, too, did Copco's need for additional generation capacity.
In 1951 Copco applied to the Federal Power Commission for authorization to construct the Big Bend Project six miles downstream from Keno. Serious opposition to the Big Bend application was expressed by many people fearing loss of water from the Upper Basin. Even the Bureau of Reclamation opposed the concept.
Born out of the many concerns about how the waters of the Klamath River should be used fairly and equitably was the interstate Klamath River Compact. As both federal and state law, the compact spells out a priority listing for the use of water, and also provides for "lowest power rates which may be reasonable for irrigation and drainage pumping, including pumping from wells."
Copco was eventually issued a 50-year license for Big Bend (now called J.C. Boyle), and the project came on line in 1958.
Included in the federal license is a condition essentially requiring continuation of the terms of the previous 1917 contract as well as compliance with the compact. Accordingly, Copco negotiated a power contract with the Bureau of Reclamation for the project irrigators which is at "cost" (1917 contract) and the "lowest reasonable rate" (1957 Klamath River Compact).
Shortly thereafter, another agreement was signed by Copco providing low-cost power to other Upper Klamath River Basin irrigators outside the reclamation project boundaries.
In 1961, Copco and PacifiCorp merged. The license now held by PacifiCorp for its entire Klamath River hydro system also includes Iron Gate Dam, commissioned in 1962. The license is due to expire in 2006, along with the farmers' power contract.
The agriculture community is confidently advocating that it can continue to provide water for irrigation and affordable low-cost power.
Federal and state relicensing agencies simply must follow the law as they did in 1956. The 1902 Reclamation Act, the Federal Power Act and the Klamath River Compact will lead us to reasonable and prudent solutions.
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