Water Fight Shifts to Power Rates
By Jeff Barnard, The Associated Press, Klamath Forest Alliance
June 6, 2005
MERRILL - The continuing battle in the Klamath Basin
between farmers who need scarce water for their crops and
activists who believe it should be used to preserve threatened
and endangered fish has moved to a new front.
Environmentalists, salmon fishermen and the Hoopa and Yurok
tribes, who champion more water for fish, have turned their
focus on the price of electricity that pumps the water through
miles of canals on the Klamath Reclamation Project and into
individual irrigation systems.
Unsuccessful in winning a federal buyout of irrigated
farmlands, they are taking a page from conservatives and
pushing for the free market to reduce irrigation.
They support the utility PacifiCorp's moves to raise
electric rates for 1,300 customers on the Klamath Reclamation
Project and neighboring lands as much as 1,000 percent to
market rates when the current 50-year contract expires next
The idea is that higher power prices will make it too
expensive to irrigate tens of thousands of acres of marginal
farmland, putting more water in the Klamath River for
``The question is whether it is in the public interest to
subsidize irrigation on the most marginal lands,'' said Jim
McCarthy of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, an
environmental group. ``The balance can be here if we just let
it occur and stop the subsidy. You will see more water going
down the river for fish and wildlife, which is also an
economic engine for the coast and southern Oregon.''
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations,
which represents California salmon fishermen facing a sharp
reduction in their catch due to struggling runs in the Klamath
River, has thrown its support behind PacifiCorp on the issue.
``The Klamath Basin is so water-starved that every effort
should be made to conserve rather than provide economic
incentives to waste,'' said Glen Spain of the fishermen's
Authorized in 1905, the Klamath Reclamation Project built a
network of canals to drain Tule Lake in California and Lower
Klamath Lake in Oregon and now irrigates 180,000 acres of
farmland that produce grain, alfalfa, onions, potatoes,
horseradish, and cattle.
On most projects around the West, the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation built dams to provide low-cost power for
Not so in Klamath. They ceded that responsibility to
California & Oregon Power Co., which built dams to regulate
flows out of Upper Klamath Lake and produce electricity. Copco
has since been taken over by PacifiCorp, which is owned by the
multinational energy giant Scottish Power.
For PacifiCorp, it's a matter of updating rates that have
not changed since 1956, and a deal that began in 1917, said
spokesman Jon Coney.
Electric rates of 0.6 cents per kilowatt hour were 20
percent below market in 1956, said Coney. They are now 99
percent below the 6 cents per kilowatt hour charged for
irrigation power in Oregon; the rate in California is 8 cents
per kilowatt hour.
Lumping together the 220 customers on the project in
California, 720 on the project in Oregon, and 300 off the
project in California - including a golf course, cemetery and
schools that pay 0.75 cents per kilowatt hour - PacifiCorp
loses $8 million to $10 million a year, Coney said.
``The rates that are charged customers reflect what it
costs to serve them, generate power, deliver power, and
maintain the infrastructure,'' said Coney. ``What this class
of customers pays does not cover those costs. By any measure,
certainly by any regulatory measure, an arrangement like this
certainly couldn't be continued.''
Farmers counter that their operation and maintenance of the
Klamath Project provides water for PacifiCorp's dams. And if
it costs too much to power new efficient sprinkler systems -
some paid for with $50 million in federal programs to reduce
water demand - they will go back to flood irrigation, which
generally uses more water.
Though the cost would be a big shock for farmers, most will
stay in business, moving to cheaper methods such as flood
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