Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why Siskiyou Supervisor Jim Cook waffled on the Klamath Dam and Water Deals

There is an apparent change among Siskiyou County’s political elite as revealed by recent actions of the County’s Board of Supervisors. As reported in the Siskiyou Daily News, the supervisors recently voted to join the Siskiyou County Flood Control and Water Conservation District in sending a letter to the water resources departments of California and Oregon, as well as the Klamath River Compact Commission. The letter expresses both boards’ opposition to the Dam and Water Deals formally known as the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA).

The vote of the Flood Control Board was 4 to 1 with the South County's Ed Valensuela voting against sending the letter of opposition. The vote of the Board of Supervisors split differently with 3 voting to send the letter of opposition and 2 voting not to send it.

The strange thing is that both boards are composed of exactly the same five individuals: Grace Bennett, Marcia Armstrong, Ed Valensuela, Michael Kobseff and Jim Cook. Valensuela and Cook voted against the Board of Supervisors sending the letter.

Valensuela’s refusal to condemn the two Deals is well known. He represents the Mt. Shasta-Dunsmuir portion of the county which is a progressive enclave in otherwise ultra-conservative Siskiyou County. Previously Valensuela has been the lone vote against uncompromising opposition to the Deals. But Cook’s vote as supervisor signals a change in position; previously he has been one of the most vocal critics of the two Agreements.

Cook’s waffling appears baffling until one considers the district he represents. Siskiyou County’s sprawling first supervisorial district includes portions of the Shasta River Valley, the Copco Area (where opposition to dam removal is fierce among those who live near Copco Reservoir) and the richest portions of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project – the former beds of Tule and Lower Klamath Lakes.

Irrigators in the Tule Lake area in particular live in large houses or small mansions and control thousands of acres of farmland both on and off the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. There is so much land available for lease in the area that this small group of irrigators get to farm vast acreage at very little cost. All the irrigation water they choose to take goes with the lease. Those cheap lease rates and cheap water courtesy of the federal government are the foundation of the Irrigation Elite’s wealth.

With that wealth comes political power and the reach of that power extends to Sacramento, Salem and Washington DC where both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have typically been eager to do the bidding of the Irrigation Elite.

Supervisor Cook’s change of position on the Dam and Water Deals reflects the power of constituents who stand to gain tremendously if those Deals become law. In short, the Irrigation Elite has gotten to Cook and his desire to stay in office has overcome his ideological opposition to the Deals. Here’s how the Siskiyou Daily News reported Cook’s rationalization:
      Cook explained that while he continues to oppose dam removal, there were certain aspects of each agreement with which he does not find fault, explaining that he believes the restoration agreement has actions that can help the basin immediately.

It would be interesting to know which "aspects" of the Deals Cook now supports and we invite Supervisor Cook to enumerate those "aspects" here on KlamBlog. We strongly suspect that the "aspects" which directly benefit the Irrigation Elite at the expense of other irrigators and other interests are what Cook now finds can help the basin immediately.

Cook's new position may also indicate a change of position on the part of the Irrigation Elite themselves. The Elite is represented by the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA). As one of the Deals main beneficiaries, KWUA has taken the position that the Dam and Water Deals are indivisible and must be accepted in total.  Cook's new position may reflect that his most wealthy constituents realize that they can't get the whole package and are now positioning themselves and their supporters to secure those aspects which benefit them most.

The biggest prize for the Irrigation Elite is the Water Deal's allocation of a large amount of Klamath River Water to the federal irrigation project which serves them. If the Water Deal becomes law, the irrigation elite would have first call on a large amount of Klamath River water ahead of salmon and other irrigators. That water allocation would only be limited if Coho salmon were placed in jeopardy as a result. Cook can be expected to do what he can to deliver that prize in particular to the Irrigation Elite.

The problem for Cook is that a first-in-line water allocation to the Irrigation Elite is contrary to the interests of Shasta Valley irrigators who are also his constituents. If the Water Deal becomes law, those irrigators will likely be forced to curtail irrigation to provide Klamath River flows that now come from Upper Klamath Lake - the main source of water to the Irrigation Elite.

KlamBlog has previously opined that the Siskiyou Supervisors opposition to the Deals would likely evaporate if the payoffs to the county were sufficient; it now appears that the price for Supervisor Cook’s support - at least for some aspects of the Deals - has been paid.

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