As he did in a
talk to the Tulelake Rotary in 1993, on Feb.15 environmentalist Andy Kerr
gave an insight into a future avenue of attack against Klamath Basin
Speaking as a panelist on a forum discussing the
Endangered Species Act, Kerr was describing agriculture in the Basin as
economically unviable, and will be especially so when the "power subsidy"
expired in 2006.
As he had been doing all evening, Dan Keppen, executive
director of the Klamath Water Users Association and also a panelist,
parried Kerrís comment with fact.
"That is simply not true," Keppen said. "The power
rates for Klamath Project use are set by a contract signed in 1956 between
the power company and irrigators. While it is accurate that the contract
will be renegotiated in 2006, to call it a subsidy is false and
Less is known locally about the 1956 contract than
about the original contract, signed in 1917 by Project irrigators, the
Bureau of Reclamation, and the California Oregon Power Company, known as
The 1917 contract gave the power company an established
customer in the Klamath Project, a customer whose power needs were sure to
In turn that gave COPCO leverage to seek government and
private financing to build power-generating dams on the Lower Klamath
River in the 20s and 30s.
Ironically, the 1956 contract led to water conservation
practices well before the notion became haute couture in liberal political
circles. Because government control of the dams was dependent on river
levels being kept above a minimum, farmers began conserving water by
transitioning to sprinkler and pivot systems.
The 1917 contract was set to run for a 50-year span and
was renewed in January 1956, with rates set at .5 cents per kilowatt for
agricultural use, and seven cents for non-agricultural use.
While the seven cents per kilowatt is a good bargain,
the half penny rate is substantially less than elsewhere in the country,
even in the Pacific Northwest where a natural abundance of rivers has long
made our power rates the envy of many.
For example, a farmer in upstate New York State pays
about 9.5 cents per kilowatt for agricultural use, said Jim Havlina, a
board member of the Tulelake Irrigation District and a ham radio operator.
Havlina said he has spoken with people from all over
the world, including the farmer, who told Havlina he used to grow potatoes
but who years ago sold almost all of his ground and got out.
The high cost of power was one of several economic
factors that drove his decision, the New York farmer told Havlina.
"When I hear talk about power rates increasing tenfold
or more, I listen," Havlina said. "I listen because it has happened in
other places, and it could happen here."
Alternative energy generation is one way that power
rates can be kept from becoming a tool for those entities and individuals
who want agriculture to end in the Basin, and operators who think more
than a one planting season ahead are gearing up to explore those
Although juniper burning co-gen plants have been
informally discussed by irrigation district officials, power generation
alternatives powered by solar, wind or geothermal sources have barely
Part of the reason is the technology for wind
generation studies in the Klamath Basin have never been pursued to the
point of real research, such as wind sustainability patterns.
When contrasted against the millions spent on studying
whether the Chiloquin Dam should be removed ó an impediment to spawning
sucker fish that all parties except the Klamath Tribes agree should be
removed (perhaps because the 2002 Farm Bill includes another $10 million
to the Tribes to study the damís removal) ó the lack of interest is
anything but benign.
A proven source of energy generation that is
sustainable and literally all around the Basin are the many geothermal
In a story first uncovered by this writer last May, one
of the wells drilled in a $2.1 million groundwater development project on
the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge tested at more than 180
degrees, capable of matching the entire energy output of the city of
Klamath Fallsí well known and boasted about geothermal system, according
to engineers at OITís Geothermal Department.
That well also contained a dangerously high content of
mercury, as was reported at the time. Altogether, three of the 11 wells
drilled on the refuge in 2001 are geothermal. Two of those, including the
one mentioned, contained mercury.
The third has been observed this winter pumping water into a ditch for
eventual use by the refuge.