Thursday, December 8, 2011

Politics gone wild…and two rays of light.

Recently Mike Tbompson and Jeff Merkley introduced legislation in the US Congress to authorize and fund the Klamath Dam and Water Deals. That prompted a new eruption of verbiage from the usual cast of Klamath Deal promoters and detractors who have been all over the media competing to spin public opinion.

We won’t publish any of those editorials and web postings because they do little more than repeat the same tired arguments residents of the Basin have been hearing for far too long now. KlamBlog wishes these spinmeisters could come up with some new arguments – or at least some new and more entertaining ways to present their propaganda.  

What we do publish in this post are recent statements by the two Congresspersons who currently represent the vast majority of California’s Klamath River Basin residents – Wally Herger and Mike Thompson. We also comment on the two men’s statements.

Then, from the “rays of light” department, we publish and comment on what we believe are notable exceptions to an increasingly dark outlook for resolution one way or the other of the impasse over the costly and controversial KBRA and KHSA – the Klamath Dam and Water Deals.

The first ray of light is an announcement from the Klamath Tribes that their treaty water rights – which have been affirmed by the Supreme Court - have been quantified in Oregon’s Upper Basin Adjudication.

Along the Wood River above Upper Klamath Lake 
Most of the Klamath Tribes' water rights are located above Upper Klamath Lake

The second is an editorial by Bill Cross of Ashland, Oregon. Bill represents the group American Whitewater in the Klamath River Basin. He is an avid whitewater enthusiast and instructor who has spent a lot of time on the Klamath River. Bill is an unpaid volunteer for the river advocacy group which, so far, has steered clear of Klamath deal-making. You can find more information on AW’s Klamath Restoration Project at this link.

There is an additional piece of news to which we call KlamBlog readers’ attention because it illustrates the depths to which some promoters of the Deals will go to advance their agenda.
Recently the web page of the Arcata-based Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) was commandeered by pro-Deal individuals. Those individuals put up an Action Alert on the Deals which is at odds with the adopted position of NEC’s Board of Directors. That alert has been subsequently referred to by deal promoters in two guest editorials – one  in the Mckinleyville Press and another in the Eureka Times-Standard.

Several NEC members have asked that the inaccurate alert be corrected or taken down as well as for an explanation of how the web site take-over succeeded. These members want the NEC to put in place procedures to assure that in the future the organization’s web site cannot be commandeered by board factions or outside interests.

So far NEC Board President Larry Glass has stonewalled. In e-mails to protesting members Glass stated that the alert does not represent the NEC’s position on the Deals; but he has refusing to take it down or modify it to conform to that position. The concerned members have not backed down either - citing the need to assure that this sort of debacle does not occur again. KlamBlog will monitor the situation and will inform readers of related developments at the NEC.

Wally Herger on the Deals

Below is Herger’s Guest Opinion published in the Siskiyou Daily News on December 1st followed by KlamBlog’s comments interpreting Herger’s words and the likely motivations behind them.

By Wally Herger
Siskiyou Daily News

Redding, Calif. —  I have always been – and continue to be – a fervent supporter of dams. I believe we need more dams, not fewer. They are invaluable because of their many benefits, including as a source of abundant and cheap electricity, protection from flooding, and recreational opportunities (including the economic benefits they create) for local communities. Unfortunately, decades of increasing environmental regulation have created skyrocketing costs and potential liabilities for existing dam owners. It’s a problem we are seeing play out across the West and indeed right here in our own backyard as four dams on the Klamath River are currently being considered for removal because the environmental costs and risks of continued operation have become so high. The debate over these four Klamath River dams has become a big issue in our area. Constituents I have known and worked with for many years are sharply divided on it.

Farmers in Tulelake in Siskiyou County have been fighting regulatory battles like these for years. Indeed, in 2001 their area was ground zero for a national battle over the inflexible Endangered Species Act (ESA), as farmers there had all of their irrigation water abruptly shut off in a decision that was later determined to be not justified by science. It is these same farmers who have been working to take the best advantage of a settlement agreement that they fervently hope will provide them the regulatory certainty they need to survive. They are hardly cheerleaders for dam removal. But they have concluded that giving up certain dams that create hydropower but do not store agricultural water is a trade-off they are willing to make in exchange for what they hope will stop the endless regulatory and court battles over their water supplies. If I were in their position, I would be advocating for the same settlement agreement to have a more secure economic future.

There is a wider community sentiment that strongly opposes dam removal. This was reflected in a lopsided but legally nonbinding referendum. This emotionally charged issue is further complicated by the fact that, at its core, dam removal in this case involves a private property right. PacifiCorp, the owner of the dams, has reluctantly made a tentative business decision to remove their dams. They indicated to me that they did not reach this decision lightly. But, to be blunt, the company had a regulatory gun pointed at its head.

It is not that the dams are structurally deficient; the problem is that they cannot meet current state and federal laws and regulations. As PacifiCorp moved through the relicensing process, they realized they would be required to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for fish ladders and other mitigation, and yet it was still unclear whether they would receive a vital permit required under the Clean Water Act.
Faced with this prospect, PacifiCorp decided to cut its losses. (The negotiated settlement allows them to cap their costs at $200 million. Seeking to relicense the dams would far more than double that cost which, under current law, would be passed on to ratepayers.)

That said, dam removal is by no means a “done deal.” The agreement requires a $250 million contribution from the State of California. Given the acute fiscal crisis facing California, such funding is by no means assured.

Furthermore, the Klamath River Expert Panel (a scientific “peer review” panel convened by the Department of Interior) recently concluded that current studies are deficient in addressing a host of subjects. A June story in the Los Angeles Times was headlined: “Scientists find holes in Klamath River dam removal plan.” The opening sentence bluntly noted, “A $1.4-billion project to remove four hydroelectric dams and restore habitat to return Chinook salmon to the upper reaches of the Klamath River amounts to an experiment with no guarantee of success, an independent science review has concluded.”

Bear in mind that the Department of Interior asked for this review. I contacted Interior Secretary Salazar in late August and asked him to respond to the Expert Panel’s scathing criticisms, but I have still received no reply. Before the Secretary renders a decision on dam removal, and before the Congress is asked to expend roughly a billion dollars to implement a “restoration” program, it might be a good idea to make sure that the plan will not be a colossal failure.

If the science does not justify the proposal to remove the dams, or if the cost/benefit ratio is so out-of-kilter that it does not pass the straight face test, then PacifiCorp should be owed the opportunity to seek a new license that contains reasonable and affordable conditions. But the bottom line is we must continue working to reform the environmental laws that are making life so difficult and costly for farmers and energy producers alike.

KlamBlog on Herger’s position

The Klamath’s Irrigation Elite is that small group of privileged irrigators who through extensive leasing and ownership control most of the land which is actually farmed within the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project. As KlamBlog has pointed out in the past, the BOR’s federal irrigation project also delivers water to a golf and country club, a hunting lodge, a community college, a wood products manufacturing plant, urban redevelopment land in the City of Klamath Falls and other non-ag water users. The BOR’s Klamath Project diverts approximately 40% of total water taken from the Klamath River. The Irrigation Elite receive this subsidized water and other benefits courtesy of US Taxpayers and the US Bureau of Reclamation. Individual members of the Irrigation Elite are regular contributors to Wally Herger’s campaign war chest.

If the KBRA Water Deal is authorized by Congress and becomes law this golf course is
among the water users which will have priority over salmon for Klamath River water

In this editorial, Herger is at pains to justify the Elite’s participation in the Klamath Dam and Water Deals. He is likely doing this to prepare his Siskiyou County constituents for the day when he will abandon his stated principles by supporting Klamath Deals Legislation which the Irrigation Elite favors. That day may or may not come but Herger is obviously keen to protect his political rear end if Congressional Democrats and Republicans cut a deal to give PacifiCorp its golden parachute and the KBRA gets to go along for the ride. Herger’s editorial is a signal that such a deal is possible. When big money - like PacifiCorp’s Berkshire Hathaway owners - is in the game, a Democratic and Republican accommodation is always possible. After all, both the D’s and the R’s serve big money interests more than they serve the voters.  

It is interesting that Herger justifies the Irrigation Elite’s adoption of the Deals as motivated by a desire for “regulatory certainty.” He says, “If I were in their position, I would be advocating for the same settlement agreement to have a more secure economic future”. This justification conflicts with oft-repeated statements of Deal supporters - including Craig Tucker and PCFFA’s Glen Spain. They claim the Deals will have no impact on the federal or California Endangered Species Acts or on other laws which protect fish, wildlife resources and water quality.

KlamBlog agrees with Herger. While the deal makers were not so stupid as to seek an outright exemption from the federal and California ESA’s, the KBRA and the KHSA contain provisions which, if authorized by Congress, will severely limit – and with respect to Bald Eagles and some other wildlife – will demolish the effectiveness of the ESAs and other laws to protect at risk fish and wildlife in the Upper Klamath River Basin. KlamBlog has previously discussed these provisions in detail in our November 12, 2010 post.

Readers will also notice that Herger does not advocate for a return to the FERC process. That is because he knows that process would lead to dam removal without the burdens on taxpayers, the River and Klamath Salmon which the Deals impose in order to provide a golden parachute for PacifiCorp, “regulatory certainty” and new subsidies for the Irrigation Elite. The KHSA allows PacifiCorp to walk away from dams which they own clear of all responsibility – and liability - not only for dam removal but for toxic legacies which are likely lurking around 100 year old powerhouses.

KlamBlog expects that one of the most toxic classes of chemicals known - PCPs - will be discovered in soil around those powerhouses. However, if dealmakers and the federal bureaucrats who engineered the Deals have their way, those toxic chemicals will not be “discovered” until PacifiCorp is down the road and no longer responsible for them.

If the KHSA Dam Deal is accepted by Congress, responsibility for cleaning up PCPs and PacifiCorp’s other toxic legacies will be removed from the corporation’s stockholders and placed on American Taxpayers. This is an all-American trick well known to residents of timber country: In recent decades numerous timber corporations have "given" their old, unwanted mill sites to local towns for a dollar while the fine print absolved the company from all future liability.

That is what happened to the City of Mt. Shasta. City officials accepted an old mill site from Roseburg Corporation in exchange for a dollar and the liability waiver fine print. The City is now seeking a six figure federal grant to clean-up toxic pollution on that site. The highly toxic contamination – which is typical of wood products mill sites – must be cleaned up before the property can be safely used by people.    

Mike Thompson on Thompson-Merkley Deal Legislation:

Below we present a Q & A with Congressman Thompson conducted recently by John Bowman for the Siskiyou Daily News followed by our comments on Mr. Thompson’s position.

By John Bowman
Dec 05, 2011
Siskiyou County — On Nov. 10, Rep. Mike Thompson of California’s First Congressional District and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced the Klamath Basin Economic Restoration Act in the House and Senate.

If approved, the bill would pave the way for Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to make a final determination on dam removal and establishes authority to manage funds for the process. It would also provide federal authorization to approve and implement the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), thereby initiating the dam removal process, if that determination is made.

“The agreements that are in place represent the best way forward for the Klamath River Basin and its communities – now it is time for Congress to put these agreements into action,” a recent press release issued by Thompson stated.

Recently, the Daily News asked Thompson a series of questions regarding the act and its impact on Siskiyou County and Northern California communities.

Q: What prompted you to introduce this bill?

A: I introduced this bill because it's the right thing to do. The removal of the dams represents the best way forward for all of our river basin communities. It will put people to work, improve the economy for fishers and farmers, and allow wildlife and the environment to be restored.

Q: How do you feel about the odds of the Klamath Basin Economic Restoration Act passing both the House and Senate? How do you plan to overcome opposition in Congress from people like Congressman Tom McClintock, who has been a vocal opponent of dam removal?

A: I introduced this bill with the intention of it passing this Congress and being signed into law, and I am going to work hard to make sure that happens. If it doesn't pass this Congress I will keep introducing it every Congress until it does pass. Tom McClintock is against restoring the Klamath River and is content with these inefficient dams that hurt our fisheries. I doubt that will change. However, it is important for your readers to know that this bill would restore salmon habitats, help farmers and create more than 4,600 jobs. We can't sit by while some folks in Congress try to keep us from doing what's right.

Q: What would you say to Siskiyou County residents and county government officials who believe that Klamath dam removal is part of a larger government effort to limit property rights and eventually eliminate natural resource industries from the region?

A: This legislation is about improving the health of all communities in the basin. The reason it is supported by many farmers in the upper basin – especially those who rely on the federal irrigation project – is because they know that the status quo is not sustainable. Far from trying to eliminate natural resource economies, this bill would protect farming into the future while also protecting commercial, sport and tribal fishing. This bill is all about improving resource economies, not stifling them.

Q: How do your constituents in Northern California's coastal counties feel about Klamath dam removal?

A: The Northern California coastal community is united in its desire to see the Klamath River dams removed. The community is tired of seeing the damage to fisheries done by marginally productive dams, as well as their effects on water quality. For a community with spiritual, recreational or commercial ties to salmon, dams like these are outdated and no longer beneficial. It should be noted that despite the dams' negative effects on salmon, they provide no benefit to tribes in the lower basin. In fact, some areas of the Yurok Reservation do not even have power decades after the dams were built.

Q: What is your position on the importance of restored Klamath River salmon runs to Northern California’s economies and communities?

A: The restored salmon runs will have a hugely positive impact on Northern California's economies and communities. Scientific analysis shows that with removal of the dams, coho would reclaim 68 miles of historical habitat, Steelhead – the Klamath River's most popular sport fishery – would regain 420 miles of historical habitat, and commercially harvested Chinook salmon production would increase by more than 80 percent. And Siskiyou County would benefit from restored salmon runs. Folks would come to fish, stay in motels, buy food, buy gas and buy tackle. Sport fishing is a huge industry in California, and Siskiyou will see the benefits of all this. Altogether, 11 coastal counties in Oregon and California would see gains of more than 400 jobs as a result of improved fishing conditions.

The deadline for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision on Klamath facilities removal is March 31, 2012. 

KlamBlog on Thompson’s position

After November Mike Thompson will no longer represent any portion of the Klamath River Basin. That gives him a political free ride on Klamath issues and explains why he is so obviously unconcerned about what Klamath River Basin voters may think about his sponsorship of legislation to authorize and fund the costly and controversial Klamath Dam and Water Deals.

When it comes to Congressional politics, Mike Thompson is an extreme partisan. The fact that the Klamath Deals have become a venue for inter-party warfare is not good for the River but it is what Mike Thompson thrives on. Within his new district the congressman will retain Napa and other counties with strong Agribusiness interests. Thompson has always been Big Ag’s guy and he was no doubt eager to carry water for the Irrigation Elite with whom he is known to socialize and hunt ducks.

Rays of light

Now for the Rays of Light which we promised:

Klamath Tribes Press Release: Important Victory in the Klamath Tribes Water Rights Adjudication

Chiloquin, OR- Today was a milestone in the lengthy Klamath Basin Water Rights Adjudication. The judge hearing the part of the Adjudication that deals with the claims of the Klamath Tribes issues six Proposed Orders quantifying the Tribes’ water rights. In each case he ruled largely in favor of the Tribes’ claims.

“The Proposed Orders give everyone in the Basin plenty to think about,” said Jeff Mitchell who leads the Klamath Tribes’ Negotiating Team. “These rulings highlight the role that the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement can play in resolving Basin water issues. The Tribes will be evaluating the rulings and discussing them with others in the Basin to determine the best path from here on.”
Some interests in the Basin advised people that the Tribes’ water rights are minimal, but those interests have been proven wrong. People who followed that advice have obviously been misled in a situation where they are risking a lot.

The rulings encompass the Williamson, Sycan, Sprague, and Wood Rivers along with many of their tributaries, as well as the Klamath Marsh and springs scattered throughout the former Klamath Reservation. Cases involving Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River are expected to have decisions handed down in April.

“These rulings emphasize the need for Basin water interests to work together to find ways to share the water, share the pain of drought, and share the bounty of our waterways,” said Tribal Vice-Chairman Don Gentry. “The Tribes are committed to restoring fisheries and water bodies in the Basin, and we believe that agricultural and other water dependent communities can be restored at the same time. That is what the KBRA can do,” he said.

The ruling is welcomed by the Tribes who have fought for their treaty rights for many decades, and are prepared to fight many more. The Tribes’ commitment to the Adjudication reflects their commitment to restoring the health of Basin fisheries and water bodies. “Our commitment to these bounties provided by the Creator will never end,” said Mitchell.

KlamBlog on the Klamath Tribe’s Water Right

The Klamath Tribes are to be congratulated on their extraordinary perseverance. In order to get their treaty water rights recognized, they had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court and then all the way back down to get the State of Oregon to quantify those rights properly. Now, after over 30 years, the Klamath Tribes (one federal tribe comprised of three Indigenous peoples) are very close to being in the driver’s seat when it comes to Klamath River water allocation.

The proposed water right settlement included in the KBRA Water Deal would “subordinate” some of the Tribes’ water rights in exchange for federal funding to reestablish a Klamath Tribal Homeland. During the 1950s the federal government terminated the treaty-established Klamath Reservation, turned it into the Winema National Forest and proceeded to log it as fast as they could get the timber sales out the door.  Timber companies – including Upper Basin-based Jeld-Wen Corporation - were the main beneficiaries. Like many of the 50s-era tribal terminations, the Klamath Tribes’ termination was later overturned…but the land was not returned.

We can understand why the Klamath Tribes want to trade some of their top priority water rights for land. We will, however, venture the opinion that the tribe could likely purchase the land they want outright in a few years just by leasing water to the Bureau of Reclamation and to irrigators who have a lower water right priority. However, the Klamath Tribes have decided to cast their fate – and the fate of Klamath Salmon – with the costly and controversial Klamath Dam and Water Deals.

If the KBRA Water Deal fails, the tribe might be persuaded to use some of its water to achieve flows in the Klamath River which would facilitate the recovery of Klamath River salmon. Those recovery flows would be a far cry from KBRA flows which, at best, will only prevention jeopardy to ESA listed Klamath Salmon. The difference between jeopardy flows and flows that would provide the salmon abundance that signals recovery is unknown. Federal bureaucrats and Klamath Deal “parties” refuse to do the studies needed to quantify the flows necessary for recovery. Logic and experience elsewhere suggests that the difference would be substantial. 

The fact that Klamath River water remains over-allocated and is likely to stay over-allocated for the foreseeable future means that the Klamath Tribes’ water rights are worth a lot of money. In our view, the KBRA Water Deal undervalues those water rights. That undervaluation is the difference between flows barely adequate to prevent jeopardy and flows which will lead to recovery. We’d like to see the Klamath Tribes get full value for their water – and for Kuptu, Tsuam and Tsi’als to get real benefit from the Klamath Tribes’ water rights.   

We call on the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to quantify recovery flows using the best available science as part of recovery planning for the Klamath River Basin’s threatened and endangered fishes. And we challenge Deal “parties” and the Basin’s scientific community to support that quantification.  

By Bill Cross
Siskiyou Daily News
Nov 28, 2011
Siskiyou County —  Not all dams are created equal. Each is endowed by its creators with certain abilities: Some provide flood control, some store irrigation water, some generate hydroelectricity and many – like the one at Lost Creek Reservoir on the Rogue River – are engineering compromises that do a bit of all these things.

If we’re going to debate whether to remove a dam, we need to know precisely what it does. Right now the nation’s hottest dam removal debate centers on whether to dismantle four PacifiCorp dams on the Upper Klamath River. Yet many people don’t understand what these dams can – and cannot – do. The fact that the dams are owned by PacifiCorp, an electric power company, should be a big clue. PacifiCorp is not in the business of providing flood control or storing irrigation water for farmers. PacifiCorp generates and sells electricity, and making electricity is the only thing their Upper Klamath dams were designed to do.

This surprises most people. They assume that all dams reduce flooding in winter and boost the river’s flow during the long, dry summer. But to do those things, a dam must be able to store and release large amounts of water by raising and lowering the reservoir behind the dam. At Lost Creek Reservoir on the Rogue, the Army Corps of Engineers releases extra water every summer, lowering the reservoir dramatically, then uses that excess space to capture high flows during winter and spring, refilling the reservoir in time for the next summer dry season.

Not so with PacifiCorp’s Klamath dams. Seasonal raising and lowering is inefficient for generating hydropower, and PacifiCorp knows a thing or two about efficiency. The Upper Klamath reservoirs were designed to maintain a near-constant level, with no ability to store excess water in one season for release at a later time.

These dams are what engineers call “run of river” facilities, designed to release essentially the same amount of water that flows into the reservoir. They can alter flows only very briefly – on a 24-hour cycle in the case of J.C. Boyle and Copco dams – storing up the river’s flow overnight in order to release it in an oversized pulse the following day. This allows PacifiCorp to produce power when demand is highest in the middle of the day. But the dams simply cannot store enough water to reduce winter floods or release extra water in the summer.

Let’s look at the numbers. Lost Creek can be raised and lowered by 121 feet every year, allowing it to store – or release – 315,000 acre-feet of water. That’s enough to cover an area the size of Medford in 23 feet of water. Iron Gate Reservoir, the biggest of the four PacifiCorp reservoirs, can be raised or lowered by a mere 4 feet, allowing it to store only 3,790 acre-feet – enough to cover Medford in just over 3 inches of water. So although the Rogue and Klamath are similar sized rivers, Lost Creek can store 80 times as much water. Iron Gate can store just over a day’s worth of the Klamath’s average flow, while Lost Creek can store a whopping 84 days’ worth of the Rogue’s average. That’s the difference between a single-purpose hydro dam like Iron Gate and a multi-purpose dam like Lost Creek.

But these numbers are all theoretical anyway because the PacifiCorp dams never have been, and never will be, operated for flood control or water storage. PacifiCorp isn’t required to do those things, and, given the dams’ design, it couldn’t if it wanted to. The only dam on the Klamath that provides flood control and water storage is Link River Dam, located far upstream at the outlet of Upper Klamath Lake. That dam is run by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – not PacifiCorp – and no one is suggesting that it be removed.

So let’s be clear, and let’s be fair: The only thing the PacifiCorp dams were designed to do is generate electricity, and that’s all they will ever do.

What we should be debating, then, is whether the merits of power production outweigh the environmental costs of keeping these dams in place. That’s a fair question to debate. The organization I represent, American Whitewater, believes the modest amount of electricity these dams produce (about 1/400th of California’s total demand) pales when compared with the tremendous harm they cause by blocking migrating fish, brewing toxic algae and flooding or dewatering almost two dozen miles of one of the West’s greatest recreational rivers.

What more is there to say? KlamBlog can only add our voice to that of Bill Cross:  let’s be clear, and let’s be fair.

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