Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
IN MY OPINION Scott M. Seus
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Honor the contract on the Klamath
If the Bonneville Power Administration is forced to charge market rates for its electricity, as the Bush administration's budget proposes, Oregon ratepayers would face increases of as much as 20 percent per year. "That would kill the economy of Oregon," Rep. Darlene Hooley was quoted as saying. Well, Klamath Basin farmers are facing a rate increase of 2,500 percent for electricity that they provide the water to generate.
It's time for a reality check on the Klamath Basin and the contract between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and PacifiCorp. The contract, negotiated in 1917, provides affordable power for the Klamath Irrigation Project as a "franchise fee" in exchange for PacifiCorp's right to build power generating facilities on the Klamath River in lieu of the federal government developing it's own. The contract was renewed in 1956 when PacifiCorp received permission to build additional and profitable generating facilities. PacifiCorp's obligation is to honor license conditions as long as it is the licensee.
This agreement is supported by the Klamath River Basin Compact, a living document adopted by California and Oregon and ratified in 1957 by Congress, making it federal law. Since that agreement, clean, dependable, renewable, low-cost power has been produced for consumers in PacifiCorp's territory using water stored in the Klamath Reclamation Project.
The dam that the Bureau of Reclamation authorized was not built to drain the irrigation project, but to store water for beneficial use by irrigators, outdoor enthusiasts, fish, flora and fauna, as well as to stabilize what historically had been an inconsistent and at times nonexistent river flow. That dependable flow is what PacifiCorp has, and we hope continues to use for the generation of electricity.
The arrangement between PacifiCorp and the Bureau of Reclamation is not unique. The Tennessee Valley Authority Act, the Boulder Canyon Project Act and the Pacific Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act are examples of federal laws that allow for the distribution of low-cost power to farming regions. The Klamath Compact asserts the arrangement as federal law. These laws recognize the role of electricity in the production of an affordable, nutritious, safe domestic food supply.
These laws were not developed as a "temporary spur to development," as claimed by Jim McCarthy of the Oregon Natural Resources Council ("End the rate subsidy in the Klamath," Feb. 4), but rather as an investment in the economy and future of the United States. ONRC is a wolf in sheep's clothing, publicly advocating for Oregon ratepayers while surreptitiously attempting to destroy a source of cheap power that all PacifiCorp ratepayers benefit from.
The electricity rate that the Klamath Basin receives is also an investment in wildlife habitat and water conservation. Farmers throughout the basin are working to be part of the solution to the Klamath water wars. By the end of 2007, Klamath Basin farmers will have invested $12.5 million of their hard-earned money on system improvements to ensure every drop of irrigation water is being used in the most efficient way possible. These improvements all have a power component that is necessary to ensure the best use of our precious water.
The refuge system, wildlife, fish, downstream economies and the public all benefit from our progressive actions. We are investing in our future, the future of wildlife and their habitat, and open green space that the public longs for.
All farmers in the Klamath Basin are working to conserve water, power and the habitat of some 430 species that share the land with us. We focus on the big picture rather than micro-managing single species.
Similarly, our relationship with the Bureau of Reclamation and PacifiCorp is part of a bigger picture that benefits all ratepayers and the economies of California and Oregon.
Scott M. Seus is third-generation farmer in the Klamath Basin.
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