In response to a question during an electronic Town Hall meeting the evening of December 9th, North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson indicated that he would be introducing Klamath River legislation in January.
Here’s the question that was put to Thompson by a constituent:
"One thing on our minds in Humboldt County is the Klamath Dam Removal Deal.
Given that a number of parties have expressed concerns with the Klamath Settlement Negotiations and the linkage between dam removal and the $985 million Restoration Deal, how do you think you will proceed on introducing legislation?"
Thompson did not appear eager to talk about the Klamath River during a meeting dominated by health care. But he did give a clear indication that he was working with the Interior Department on Klamath legislation. Since the Interior Department is a party to the proposed Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) this response appears to indicate that Mr. Thompson plans to introduce the legislation which those remaining in negotiators are drafting behind closed doors.
Those with concerns about the Klamath Deals hoped Mr. Thompson would consider ideas, concepts and proposals from all his constituents and other Klamath River stakeholders who are not party to the closed door negotiations or who have rejected the resulting deals before drafting his own legislation.
Leading Northern California environmentalists - including Greg King, Diane Beck and Felice Pace - and prominent environmental organizations based in Mr. Thompson’s district - including the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) and Friends of Del Norte - favor dam removal but reject the proposed dam and water deals. Those opposing the deals are concerned because they do not commit to actually removing the dams, delay the removal unnecessarily, do not sufficiently protect water quality in the interim until the dams are removed and because the dam deal is linked to the controversial and costly KBRA. You can read Klamath Campaign Coordinator Jay Wright’s article explaining the NEC’s “new course" on the Klamath Deals on line.
Thompson indicated that he would be introducing legislation with an Oregon congressman but did not indicate whom that might be. The Upper Klamath Basin is represented by Greg Walden. Walden is running for reelection; he has yet to take a position on the Klamath deals. Peter DeFazio – who represents the Southern Oregon Coast - has also been involved in Klamath River issues. Last year he worked with Mike Thompson to obtain funding for fish disease research on the Klamath. DeFazio is a Democrat.
If Mr. Thompson decides to carry legislation being drafted by those remaining in Klamath negotiators he may face opposition from more than those who want to see a better dam removal deal. There is fierce opposition to the deals in the Upper Basin and in Siskiyou County. That opposition includes irrigators who believe that the deals give the Irigation Elite - the small group of irrigators who dominate irrigation on federal Klamath Project - an unfair competitive advantage via the KBRA's power and other subsidies.
The KBRA would require close to $1 billion dollars in spending and many millions more to purchase water from irrigators to meet salmon flow needs during drought years. Nearly half a billion dollars would be new spending. Thompson still caucuses with the Blue Dog Democrats who are deficit hawks. Organizations which fight government waste and subsidies – including Taxpayers for Common Sense - may get involved. While deal spending is being marketed as “restoration” two-thirds is actually subsidies to irrigators, tribes and counties.
One of the details on the Klamath Deals which has not yet been worked out is how to pay for them. The Obama Administration’s Office of Management and Budget is reportedly concerned about the spending – much of which would go to the Irrigation Elite. Congress so-called “pay go” rules would require that Mr. Thompson and other sponsors of legislation identify where they would cut funding to compensate for the new spending.
Another unresolved detail is the proposal to provide the Klamath Basin’s Irrigation Elite with access to cheap power from the Bonneville Power Administration. That proposal is likely being opposed by the aluminum and internet industries which have built plants along the Columbia River to take advantage of cheap Bonneville Power. Giving the Irrigation Elite access to Bonneville Power means less of that power would be available for existing users.
Most Bonneville power comes from Columbia River dams. Those dams have been implicated in the decline of salmon populations in the Columbia River Basin. Bonneville power for the Irrigation Elite would make those irrigators complicit in the Columbia Basin’s salmon decline. Likewise, the linkage of the proposed deals to the California Water Bond initiative could implicate the deal makers in approval of a Peripheral Canal to carry more Northern California water to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and to Southern California cities. If the Peripheral Canal is built many California water watchers expect new attempts to divert more Klamath and Trinity River water south during the winter. River research indicates that high winter flows play a key role in sustaining river ecosystems - including salmon.
If they make it through Congress as negotiated, the Klamath Deals will carry implications not only for Klamath River Salmon but for Columbia River and Sacramento-San Joaquin Salmon as well.