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Rookie Senator takes on  2000 per cent power rate increase

Whitsett earns ovation from fellow caucus members and ire from Willamette Weekly
Klamath Courier report, June 1, 2005


KLAMATH - When PacifiCorp announced it’s intention to raise the Klamath irrigators’ power rate 2000 per cent in 2006, Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, District 28, introduced a bill to diminish the impacts. This has brought widespread support from all but the environmentalists, power companies and tribes. They see this as a means to eradicate Klamath irrigators from the basin.

   History of Klamath power rates 

Before the Klamath Reclamation Project was built, very little, if any, water flowed from the Klamath Basin into Klamath River, depending on the snow and rainfall. Sometimes Link River dried up.
The Klamath Project, paid for in full by the Klamath Basin irrigators, would provide free regulated water for the Bureau of Reclamation to manage for power. This free water would allow reasonable power rates for cities and rural customers alike. The power company in 1915 decided that they wanted to control the flows. So negotiations were started whereby the power company would build Link River Dam, take care of claims for damages and regulate the lake subject to government supervision and subject to supplying all water needed for irrigation purposes first.

Irrigators and Pacific Power became partners, negotiating a reasonable power rate 50 years ago, passed by Congress.
James Ottoman, Malin farmer, said the Klamath River Basin Compact was written to include only the waters in the Upper Klamath River Basin. The writers of the Klamath Compact realized the importance of protecting the waters of the Upper Basin permanently after 90 percent of the Trinity River was diverted to the Sacramento River upon completion of the Shasta Dam in 1945. They produced a document that included protection for water quality as well as protection for irrigation use, Indian rights of the upper Klamath Tribes, wildlife, economical power rates and proper drainage.

   The power rate controversy
Last year PacifiCorp announced that they plan to raise the rates of the Klamath Basin irrigators 2000 percent. For example, Tulelake Irrigation District pump #1, with a current power rate of $77 would be $6362. Now it does not seem to matter to PacifiCorp that the irrigators built and paid for the project that puts free regulated water in the river. It does not matter that many of the irrigators will not be able to afford the higher rate.

As a Department of Agriculture official told the Courier, "They got a sweetheart deal. The power companies got free water to make power because of the construction of the Klamath Project, paid for by the irrigators, so the power companies should continue to offer the irrigators a reasonable rate."

That’s where Senator Whitsett comes in. Having lived on a horse ranch near Bonanza and having spent many years as a veterinarian in the Klamath Basin, Whitsett was just beginning to enjoy his retirement, then the 2001 water shutoff struck. He was involved in Water for Life, and also attended every water meeting possible. He knew the people and the issues. When asked to run for Senate he said yes.

So when PaciCorp announced their proposed 2000 percent rate increase, and knowing the devastation that would result, Whitsett sponsored a bill that would not allow the rates to increase over 50 percent per year in Oregon.
Whitsett told the Courier, "In all fairness, the contract should be renewed. It represents a continuation of a value given for a value received agreement. PP&L received the flow of the river for hydropower generation that benefits all power users in exchange for providing low cost power for food production."

   Willamette Week blasts Whitsett

Willamette Week’s editorial board began its spin with, "We'll give this week's Rogue, Sen. Doug Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls), an "A" for audacity but an "F'' for fairness and disclosure." The article calls the irrigators’ negotiated power rate an annual $10 million subsidy which comes out of Portland ratepayer’s pockets. They call Klamath family farmers "juice hogs" and "welfare kings."

At the same time as Willamette editors were fabricating their ‘facts,’ this freshman senator got an ovation from his fellow caucus members in last week’s caucus meeting.
Whitsett said Senate Bill 1058, as introduced, would have required electric utilities to mitigate potential "rate shock" that occurs when rate increases exceed 50 percent in any 12 month period. The bill was intended to protect all energy consumers against unsustainable utility rate increases. However, it became apparent that the bill had to be tailored to Klamath to gain the wide support needed to pass the legislation and provide Klamath irrigators with much needed protection from "rate shock. "The rate shock measure introduced in the Oregon Senate is meant to act as a safety net in the unlikely event that negotiations for the continuation of the current power rates do not result in favorable rates for the irrigators," said Whitsett. He said he is very optimistic about passage.

"I don’t doubt that to many people in Portland, the interests, concerns and way of life of rural Oregonians seem ‘roguish.’ That is why we have had to endure years of attack on our way of life. They have shut down our forests, leaving us financially vulnerable and unable to provide effectively for our schools and communities. They have imposed environmental restrictions and an endless number of boards, commissions, plans and administrative rules that always seem to neglect or marginalize the rural way of life. They have meddled in our way of life and then complained that we are not financially able to ‘pull our own weight.’"
Since PacifiCorp/Scottish Power have chosen to forsake the irrigators who made their Klamath River power production possible, many tribes and environmental groups have jumped on the band wagon to insist PacifiCorp raise the power rates to farmers. As Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen, along with Bill Jaeger of Oregon State University, so eloquently state, if they raise the irrigators’ power rates, maybe then they will go broke and become ‘willing sellers,’ so there will be more water to send down the river.
Would this land become a government wetland, in addition to the 94,000 acres already acquired from ranchers, willing sellers, in the Upper Basin? That will evaporate 3 ½ acre-feet of water per acre while irrigators only use 2 acre-feet.
Would it become fallow land, blowing dust like in 2001, drying up shallow wells and causing wrecks and allowing noxious weeds to spread throughout the remaining farmland? That is what happened in Southern California’s Owen’s Lake, now a desert with dreadful dust storms. All their water is now in L.A. They all became ‘willing sellers’.
Would the government then have to use taxpayer’s money, like currently proposed on a refuge in Oregon, to grow the crops to feed the waterfowl? In the Klamath Basin waterfowl eat over 70 million pounds of feed, half coming from the farms.
Farmers have spent millions of dollars converting fields from flood irrigation to sprinklers to conserve water, but that would all have to revert to flood irrigation. As in all recent man-made Klamath crises, some farmers would go broke. Some would have heart attacks and auctions. But the community at large has no intention of packing up and leaving. They are still negotiating.
Together, with representatives like Senator Whitsett pulling for the farm and ranching families and communities, Klamath irrigators will find a way to remain.
For information on all the bills that Senator Whitsett is sponsoring, visit his legislative website at: http://www.leg.state.or.us/whitsett

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