Saturday, August 14, 2010

No Klamath Legislation This Year!

KlamBlog has learned that prospects are slim to none that legislation will be introduced this Congress to authorize and implement aspects of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) – the Klamath Dam and Water Deals. It appears that members of Congress from Oregon and California who are involved in things Klamath or who represent portions of the Klamath River Basin can not agree on what such legislation would and would not contain

That should come as no surprise. Once proclaimed a comprehensive solution to the Basin’s water conflicts based on solid science and supported by the vast majority of interests, the Dam and Water Deals have proven to be none of what was claimed. The Deals’ promoters – who just happen to be the entities which would gain from them at the expense of other interests and the American Taxpayer – claimed that the whole package was necessary in order to get the dams down. But just like the California Water Bond that has now been pulled, federal legislation is not needed to remove PacifiCorp’s Klamath River Dams. A process for doing that already exists and has been used many times in the past to remove aging and environmentally destructive dams.

The dams will come down because it is in the interest of PacifiCorp – and its Berkshire-Hathaway shareholders – that they come down. Legislation is only needed for certain interests to get the large payoffs, water and land allocations and releases from liability which promoters of the Deals still hope to tie to the dam removal train.

PacifiCorp, however, has Warren Buffed and that brings with it a lot of political juice. That means, that while legislation to ratify the complex, controversial and costly KBRA may never see the light of day, we may yet see legislation to give PacifiCorp what it wants most, that is, release of liability not only for dam removal but also for toxic legacies that may be lurking in or near PacifiCorp’s aging powerhouses. If PacifiCorp has its way liability for those toxic legacies will be shifted to the American Taxpayer.

While legislation appears unlikely this year, much of what is in the KHSA and KBRA do not require legislation. Those portions are already being implemented by federal and state agencies. Restoration doesn't require legislation either. Water qualities clean up plans are in place for the Klamath and key tributaries including the Shasta and Scott. All that is needed now is for the responsible agencies to step up and actually enforce provisions of the clean-up plans. The agencies also already have salmon, water quality and other restoration funds. Funding for unmet restoration needs can be sought through federal and state budget and appropriation processes as was done recently to provide funding for Klamath fish disease studies.

Water management is a different matter: In the absence of legislation water management will remain fragmented and fraught with conflict. It is clear, however, that many Basin citizens, governments and interest groups reject the undemocratic back room water management proposed in the KBRA.

Klamath River Activist and KlamBlog’s principle author, Felice Pace, has proposes a different approach. In an opinion published Wednesday in the Siskiyou Daily News, True-leadership-seeks-justice-fairness  Pace rejected both the KBRA and Siskiyou County’s local control fantasies. Rather than legislating the complex KBRA which seeks to lock in and micromanage the Basin’s water future, Pace suggests establishing a process for coordinating water management and restoration under existing authorities and in full public view.

A new Klamath River Compact and Compact Commission with seats for tribes and counties as well as states and the federal government would avoid legislating complex technical issues. It would also sidestep the KBRA proposal to lock in flows and water allocations based on scientific studies which have been criticized by the National Research Council (NRC). Independent NRC scientists stated that flow studies done to date treat the Klamath River as if it were “the Upper Basin and a gutter to the sea.” As KlamBlog previously pointed out, the decision to exclude from flow studies tributaries with major water diversions – the Shasta, Scott and Trinity -  was wholly political. The California Department of Fish and Game insisted that a federally supervised flow study NOT address the Shasta and Scott which the Department thinks is its exclusive “turf”.

While Klamath Legislation appears dead this year it would be foolish to believe it could not rise again. Attempts to tie the KBRA’s generous subsidies to dam removal will not end.. Irrigators who get Klamath River water courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project are rich, powerful and well connected. They are also the ones who stand to gain most financially and politically if they can tie KBRA funding, public land mandates and water allocations to dam removal.

Because they have so much to gain, the irrigation elite will not give up. They and their lobbyists will be looking for ways to get from Congress and the American Taxpayer the subsidies and other benefits they negotiated behind closed doors. 

Stay tuned.

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