State utility regulators will decide this week whether to
kill an electricity-rate subsidy for Klamath Basin farmers
that critics say is a factor in the recent closure of
Oregon's commercial salmon fishery.
The state Public Utility Commission must choose between
Klamath farmers, who say they deserve cheap energy, and
commercial fishing interests who are still reeling after the
feds closed most of 700 miles in coastal salmon habitat
because of a sharp decline in Klamath River salmon stock.
Glen Spain, Northwest regional director for the Pacific
Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, calls this
month's closure by the feds the "worst" ever for West Coast
fisheries. Spain estimates it will cost fisheries as much as
But at the same time, the three-member state utility
commission will consider renewing an 89-year-old contract
between Portland-based PacifiCorp and Klamath farmers that
expires April 16.
PacifiCorp provides power from dams on the Klamath to
about 2,500 farmers at less than 10 percent of the rate
farmers elsewhere pay PacifiCorp. Spain argues that
providing a cut rate to Klamath farmers worsens the
underlying salmon problems by letting farmers get off too
cheaply for water use.
Spain says two irrigation-related issues have contributed
to decimate the Klamath salmon run: sluggish flow and the
creation of slack, warm water behind dams, where toxic algae
and salmon-infesting parasites flourish.
"A heavily subsidized power system promotes water waste
when we need every drop," Spain says.
The current annual value of the subsidy totals about $10
million, according to documents PacifiCorp has submitted to
At commission hearings, the utility, fisheries advocates
and conservation groups such as WaterWatch and Oregon
Natural Resources Council all have argued that the subsidy