Wednesday, October 14, 2009

“No Major Changes” in Klamath Water Deal!

If anyone had hopes that there would be changes made when negotiators meet to finalize the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, they will be disappointed – that is if you believe that Craig Tucker, spokesperson on Klamath River issues for the Karuk Tribe, knows what he’s talking about.

In the wake of the much anticipated agreement on PacifiCorp’s five Klamath River dams, Tucker has been flying around the region in the company of PacifiCorp Vice President Dean Brockbank. The media tour – which also included a representative of the California Department of Fish & Game - was conducted to promote the proposed Klamath Dam and Water Deals.
At a tour stop in Klamath Falls Tucker told the Klamath Falls Herald and News that “No major changes would be made” in the controversial Water Deal when negotiators meet in “two or three weeks.”
The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement – also know as the Water Deal – has garnered bitter opposition from many irrigators in the Upper Klamath River Basin and a few in the Shasta and Scott Valleys because it provides irrigators who receive water via the federal Klamath Project – the On-Project Irrigators – with a guaranteed, first-in-line allocation of water, access to cheap power and $100 million dollars in subsidies. Opponents believe this will give On-Project Irrigators an unfair competitive advantage. That advantage in turn is expected to further solidify On-Project Irrigators status as the Klamath River Basin’s Irrigation Elite.
Represented by the Klamath Water Users Association, members of the Irrigation Elite lease farmland at very low rates on both public refuge and private land mostly in the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath portions of the Upper Klamath River Basin.

The Off-Project Irrigators are also targeted in the agreement for retirement of water rights while no such reduction would be asked from the Irrigation Elite. This will allow the well-healed On-Project Irrigators to continue to lease vast amounts of farm and refuge land – some from older folks who can no longer farm - at very low per acre rates. Land the Irrigation Elite leases comes with water supplied by the US Bureau of Reclamation – another advantage.
The fact that Craig Tucker was traveling with PacifiCorp’s Vice President will strike Klamath watchers as ironic. Just a few months ago he was skewering and demonizing the company and its executives on a regular basis - including during protests at the company’s headquarters in Portland and in the Omaha home town of PacifiCorp’s chief shareholder - Warren Buffett.
The deal Tucker is now heaping praise upon lets PacifiCorp shareholders off the hook for all liability connected with removing the company’s dams and powerhouses from the Klamath River. Instead it saddles PacifiCorp’s electric customers with much of the financial burden. If the Dam Deal Tucker promotes is ratified by Congress, Warren Buffett and PacifiCorp’s other shareholders will walk away without having to pay even a penny for removing the dams and powerhouses it owns.
Although public utilities commissions ordinarily allow power companies to recover the cost of environmental mitigations from their electric customers (along with 9% profit) in this case the costs of relicensing mitigations (estimated at $400-$500 million), the post relicensing operating loss (estimated at $40-$50 million per year) and the cost of dam and powerhouse removal (estimated at $250-$500 million) are so high that it is likely the California Public Utilities Commission and Oregon Public Utilities Commission would have balked at saddling electric customers with the full cost. In that case PacifiCorp shareholders would have had to bear a portion of the cost.

This reveals part of PacifiCorp’s motives for cutting the Dam Deal. Company spokespersons have claimed ad nauseam in the media that PacifiCorp's main motivation is looking out for "the best interests of our customers". But, as Shakespeare had Hamlet's mother quip: "The lady dost protest too much, methinks!"

Previously Tucker and Yurok Spokesperson Troy Fletcher had contrasted the wealth of Warren Buffett with the pervasive poverty which persists on the lower Klamath River where the two tribes are based; now these two individuals – and the Tribe’s they represent – appear ready to agree to saddle some of these same folks – including many of their own tribal members - with the cost of dam and powerhouse removal while PacifiCorp shareholders pay nothing.
But no reporters apparently questioned Tucker on this point; nor did media reports of the Tucker-PacifiCorp aerial tour reveal whether the group traveled on public airlines or on one of PacifiCorp’s corporate jets.

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