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Task force work winds down; Power costs left unresolved; Basin water dispute close to settlement
Five months of strategically planning future allocation of Upper Klamath resources began to draw to a close Tuesday when the Klamath Basin Task Force convened its final meeting and reviewed what some called a Klamath Basin legacy.
The task force consists of representatives from Klamath agriculture and tribal communities, as well as government and private natural resource companies, who have all been at odds with each other in the past.After Sen. Ron Wyden appointed the 27-member Task Force in June, the group was divided into three subcommittees assigned to evaluate stakeholder interests and make recommendations for moving an all-inclusive piece of legislation through Congress that would ensure upper Basin needs are met for years to come.
At the meeting, the group reviewed the task force’s final report draft, which included outlines for reducing power rates for off-project irrigators and reducing the federal budget. An outline for addressing water allocation issues, included in the recent Upper Klamath Water Users Association and Klamath Tribes Agreement in Principle (AIP), also was presented.According to the AIP, the final agreement must be completed by Jan. 17.
Richard Whitman, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s natural resources adviser who led the meeting, said the “extremely aggressive” timeline for the agreement to be finalized will allow Wyden to complete the legislation early next year.Whitman emphasized the current AIP is not a final agreement, but a foundation for reaching a stable and predictable solution. “It’s an initial architecture for resolving water issues in the upper Basin,” he said.
The AIP is aimed at the long-term economic development and self-sufficiency of the Klamath Tribes and reducing controversies surrounding water rights claims and adjudication (see related story).“I really think this is a good deal for everyone in the Basin. The more participation, the better for everyone involved,” said Anna Bennett, Klamath Tribes roads manager.
The AIP also requests involved parties to delay water adjudication procedures for 90 days, according to Whitman.“The process still has to be approved by the judge leading the Klamath Basin adjudication, but there is an agreement around the parties involved in this group to ask the judge to delay that process for 90 days so the parties involved in the adjudication can focus their time, energy, and money on getting to completion of the upper Basin Settlement Agreement,” he said.
PowerFindings from the task force’s federal power delivery workgroup revealed that initial estimates for the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) delivering inexpensive power to off-project users may not be as cost effective as planned.
Task force legislation and a power sales contract must be completed by July 1, 2014, to receive the least expensive Tier 1 rate of 3.3 cents per kilowatt hour. The Tier 2 rate, which can be acquired for 18 months after Tier one expires, is about 4 cents per kilowatt hour. Both rates are wholesale prices and do not include transmission, distribution, or administrative costs, according to the final report draft.“It’s very important for this Basin to have competitive rates,” said Becky Hyde, a rancher and member of the Upper Klamath Water Users Association.
Whitman said the exact mechanisms that will ensure lower-cost power deliveries to the irrigation community are going to take more time to figure out.“We do not have and will not have this worked out for a year or two before we know exactly what the final solution will be,” he said.
The power portion of the final report indicates some elements the Task Force is striving for stem from agreements in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and are lacking the federal authorization that would allow them to be fulfilled.The BOR now has authorization to purchase power from Bonneville Power and Western Area Power, which may provide a better rate for consumers, but legal barriers prevent the BOR from serving power to off-project farmers and ranchers. Off-project irrigators can only be serviced once Congress approves the pending legislation.
Ed Sheets, facilitator for Klamath Basin Agreements, said the task force’s power subcommittee will continue to function until the legislation is completed.
Matt Walters, president of the Upper Klamath Water Users Association, said when the Pacificorp and BOR contract expired in 2006, a typical June power bill may have cost about $200. He said last year he paid nearly ten times that.“The biggest issue we have here is power. There’s nothing to solve that problem on the horizon yet,” he said.
Federal costsAccording to the final report draft, the Cost Review Workgroup identified federal costs that could be eliminated from the budget and found funds that matched or covered programs already in place in the Basin.
A review of the federal appropriation budget allowed committee members to remove completed or out-of-date programs from the list, which lowered the appropriation amount by 33 percent.The task force also identified several new sources of funding for the Klamath Basin Agreements, including state funding, federal off-budget funds, and private foundation funding, according to the report draft.
The 10 programs expected to be included in the legislation that require federal authorizations are estimated to total $250 million over 15 years in 2014 dollars, the draft said.Although federal legislation is required to authorize dam removal under the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, the removal would be funded by non-federal sources.
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Deal between Tribes, irrigators key to legislationIn what could easily be described as a historic agreement, the Upper Basin Irrigators and the Klamath Tribes have signed off on a tentative deal that will ensure water for both ranching operations and tribal needs.
This “agreement in principle” is key to bringing a $500 million piece of legislation before Congress that will guide water usage in the entire Basin for years to come. If approved by the Tribal Council and a host of irrigators, the agreement will become one component of the proposed legislation that will cover: the upper Basin; ... the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) including “On Project” irrigators; and the Klamath Hydro Settlement Agreement with PacifiCorp, which may involve removing four hydro-electric dams on the Klamath River.“We’ve come to a significant point, which is an understatement really, for the Klamath Basin,” said Richard Whitman, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s natural resource advisor.
“We’re now at a point where we have the Oregon delegation ready to move on federal legislation and will bring this to Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Congressman Greg Walden. The bill could be introduced as early as next year, and be funded in 2015. The $500 million would be spread over 10 years.“The informal feedback is that we’ve hit the mark on what was needed to be done,” Whitman said at a roundtable discussion at the Herald and News on Tuesday. The meeting was attended by irrigators and Klamath Tribal members who helped hammer out the deal. Later in the day, the AIP was presented at the final meeting of the water users’ task force at OIT. (See related story).
Of high importance in the agreement is a plan to keep about 30,000 acre-feet of water from being taken from the Williamson, Wood, Sprague and Sycan Rivers — water that would have gone to irrigation. That likely means buyouts or “retirement” of water rights owned by junior water right holders. That represents about 18,000 acres of land that could be taken out of ag production.“The retirements would be willing, voluntary sellers (of water rights),” said Roger Nicholson, an upper Basin irrigator and often vocal critic of past water agreements. “And they would be permanent.”
“We (the upper Basin) are one of the top 50 ag operations in the nation and this will equate to reduced agricultural usage. Nonetheless, this is a negotiated position and that’s what we’ll live with, that provides balance and brings peace to the Basin,” he said.In turn, the Klamath Tribe, which holds the most senior water right thanks to state adjudication handed down early last year, will reduce the amount of water it deems necessary for making calls for water to protect fish habitat. What that water level will be has yet to be settled, said Tribal Chairman Don Gentry.
Under the KBRA, the tribe also hopes to acquire a 92,000 acre Mazama tree farm for economic development, which would be funded by the proposed congressional legislation.Early last summer, the tribe called for its water right, forcing the shutoff of hundreds of water users in the upper Basin. About 100,000 acre feet of water was shut off. The economic impact of that was estimated to be up to $500 million annually (if it continued for several years), according to Nicholson.
“From our standpoint we are trying to strike a balance between the tribal needs and irrigators,” said Becky Hyde, a member of the upper irrigators group. “We are trying to protect agriculture above the lake to the best of our ability and protect fish habitat in the lake. I think that has happened with this agreement.”The deal is just an overview, said rancher Larry Nicholson. The details still have to be hammered out. Both the tribe and irrigation districts hope to approve the final plan by Jan. 17.
Andrea Rabe, consultant for Sprague River Water Resource Foundation and the Fort Klamath Critical Habitat Landowners, noted the amount of water returned to the lake will be accomplished through the retirement of water rights, more efficient use of irrigation, better communication among irrigators and better practices to restore the river habitat, such as keeping cattle from damaging streambanks.
“I think not everyone is completely happy with the agreement, but at the end of the day it comes down to what we need, not what we want,” Rabe said. “Some will sell their water, some will become more efficient on what they use. It’s the new reality of what we have to work with.”email@example.com
The task force had their final meeting Tuesday in an effort to solve the Basin’s water issues while keeping everyone relatively happy.
H&N photo by Dave Martinez
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Page Updated: Wednesday December 11, 2013 02:35 AM Pacific
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