Q&A session worries off-Project users
Klamath Off-Project Water Users Inc. was troubled by the Klamath Settlement question-and-answer session at the Klamath County Fairgrounds. The panel was filled with settlement proponents who represented government agencies. We hope future meetings give equal time to settlement opponents and proponents to answer questions.
We are concerned government agencies, particularly Oregon Water Resources Department, appear willing to mislead our members about settlement details in order to gain support for the settlement agreement.
The water resources department says the settlement does not affect water rights because the adjudicator makes the ultimate decision on water rights. This is misleading since the adjudicator’s employer, the Oregon Water Resources Department, intends to sign off on the settlement along with other state agencies. Technically, the adjudicator could buck the rest of the state and reject injurious settlement terms, but we doubt that he will. If the adjudicator accepts settlement terms, as settlement envisions, this will have significant adverse effects on our members’ ability to irrigate.
Water rights injured
The settlement strongly advocates granting “the tribal water rights at the claimed amounts and with the priority date of time immemorial” (page 67). If the tribal “time immemorial” claims are granted as filed, the Klamath Tribes would control the water in the Klamath drainage. Given the proposed off-Project buyout, few, if any, landowners would be left to contest the in-stream claims, making funding for continuation of contests, difficult if not impossible. Without significant challenge, these “time immemorial” claims will likely be granted.
The settlement attempts to tie groundwater and surface water together. This includes mandated support of funding for groundwater studies and even prejudges the conclusion; “It is not a question of if streams will be affected by groundwater use, but of where, when, and how much” (page E40). This result may subject groundwater wells to regulation by these in-stream claims, in addition to surface water, when these high in-stream claims are unreachable.
Klamath Project irrigators are under the impression they have exempted themselves from the tribal claims via a waiver of enforcement. We question the enforceability of the waiver as it is currently written, since the Klamath Tribes are a sovereign nation. Regardless, the settlement, if implemented, will have a major adverse effect on off-Project irrigators.
No power benefit
There is not any meaningful power benefit under the settlement. Klamath Off-Project Water Users Inc. is involved in an ongoing breach of contract lawsuit against PacifiCorp involving our power rate. Final settlement would likely require the off-Project water users to surrender these and other legal remedies.
In exchange for surrendering our legal rights, irrigators would be allowed to participate in an alternative energy program supposedly to offset power rates. Alternative energy is extremely expensive. Any meaningful rate offset would require an investment fund of about $250 million. Very high original investment is required to produce the needed power output, because, for example, solar plants in our area only produce a current return on investment of about 1 percent. Settlement advocates a fund of $33 million. Also, alternative energy investments would have to be producing revenue by the year 2011, a mere three years away. It often takes in excess of a decade to site, permit and build such resources.
Funding for investment in alternative energy must be authorized by Congress. Even if Congress approved the settlement, there are few assurances any money would appear. The settlement does not bind Congress to fund the settlement. We would be at the mercy of Congress in the year 2010 to provide funding for a long-term power program. One has to only look at the counties’ lost timber payments to see how fast Congress can change its mind on a long-term entitlement.
Most of Klamath Off-Project Water Users members may not qualify for any power benefit at all. According to the settlement, they would only qualify for power benefits if members retire their water rights or participate in ecosystem restoration. Additionally, permission would have to be acquired to obtain power benefits from the Klamath Coordination Council, a subset of the same Klamath settlement group that routinely outvoted Klamath Off-Project Water Users during settlement discussions.
Klamath Off-Project Water Users would like to see an equitable settlement that adequately protects all citizens both irrigators and non-irrigators. We hope the process the commissioners recently set up will move us toward that goal