Farmers express mixed reactions on dam removal


Issue Date: October 7, 2009
Christine Souza

As farmers discuss a dam-removal agreement announced last week, their location in the Klamath River watershed appears to be the key factor determining whether they favor the plan.

Farmers in Siskiyou and Modoc counties expressed mixed reaction to the announcement that four dams along the Klamath will be removed. The dams are owned by a Portland, Ore.-based utility company, PacifiCorp.

The project to remove the four dams, three in California and one in Oregon, would begin in 2020 under a proposal released by 26 stakeholders including PacifiCorp, Klamath Basin irrigators, native tribes, fishing groups, environmentalists and the U.S., California and Oregon governments.

The deal, estimated to cost $450 million, would be the largest river restoration project in the world, and its supporters see it as key to ensuring a secure water supply for Klamath Basin farms as well as a way to revive the salmon population in the river. Those opposed say the removal of the dams would be economically and environmentally detrimental to Siskiyou County and result in negative impacts to downstream agriculture.

The agreement to move forward with the process of dam removal, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, is the second part of a two-part deal. The first agreement, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, released in January 2008, is intended to increase water flows for fish, provide greater reliability of irrigation water delivery, undertake basin-scale habitat restoration and make critical financial investments to ensure the economic viability of Klamath Basin fishing and farming communities.

In the coming weeks, interest groups involved in the negotiations will consider whether or not to formally support the new agreement. If approved, legislation will be introduced to implement the companion agreements, possibly by the end of the year.

Siskiyou County Farm Bureau President Jim Morris said the organization has members on both sides of the issue—those who farm in the Klamath Basin and those who farm downstream.

"This is a tough issue for us. We have farmers that have strong feelings about this on both sides," Morris said. "Taking a position is difficult unless it is beneficial to all farmers and all Farm Bureau members."

Sean Curtis, a director on the Modoc County Farm Bureau board, said the board voted to support the earlier Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

"The board is not in support of removing the dams, but our members in Tulelake would be better off with the agreement rather than without it. I don't think anybody is really thrilled with it all," Curtis said.

Whether directly affected or not, farmers in Siskiyou and Modoc counties remember all too clearly the great impacts of the 2001 water shutoff to Klamath Basin farmers and members of the community, and to avoid a repeat, some decided to take a seat at the negotiation table through the Klamath Water Users Association.

"We saw this as an opportunity to settle longstanding water disputes with tribes and others. For us, it is all about a reliable supply of water and without doing it on the back of any other party," said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. "We're not trying to take somebody else's water. We are just trying to make sure that 2001 can't happen again."

Siskiyou County farmers downstream say they may be harmed by the new agreement.

"My personal opinion is it would be just horrendous to pull out these dams for a lot of reasons," said Morris, whose wife's family has been ranching adjacent to the Scott River, which is a tributary to the Klamath River. "Right now, I am sitting 50 yards from the Scott River, which is pretty much bone dry and there are no fish in the river. I don't know what kind of requirements or regulations are going to come down on us to try to generate water for the fish."

With the dams present along the Klamath River, Morris said that water managers are able to release water if there is a low flow situation.

"When the Klamath River goes dry and there's not water impounded behind the dam to enable fish to survive, probably the next thing they are going to do is look for water up the tributaries by shutting off all of the ag pumps," Morris said. "Without the dams, that management tool will no longer be available."

Even though Siskiyou County could receive $20 million through the agreement to cover lost revenues, county Supervisor Marcia Armstrong remains concerned that there is insufficient funding to cover the liabilities and impacts of dam removal on Siskiyou County.

"We get taxes from the dams and that is going to be $1 million a year that we lose. So it is mitigation for that, plus when the dam is removed there is not enough money in the kitty to cover the cost of dam removal and the mitigation, the restoration of the land afterwards and the impact to the roads, so $20 million is nothing," Armstrong said.

Bob King, who farms just north of the border in Oregon, said if the dams are removed he will have to pay $120,000 to drill a well for irrigation, and he said he will incur higher power costs.

"The removal of the dams means a higher power bill and dirty power," King said. "They will have to use something else to make power out of, and water is about the cleanest power that we have. They are going to put us 100 years behind."

For Klamath Project irrigators, a secure water supply was contingent upon them agreeing to the dam removal project. Steve Kandra, Klamath Water Users Association board member and past-president, says the agreement will not only provide water supply security to Klamath Water Project farmers, but also benefit others in the region.

"There are mechanisms too where there will be some security for folks outside the irrigation projects, dealing with tribal trust issues and so forth," he said.

Kandra, who farms in California and Oregon, said the agreement is the solution to address endangered-species issues faced by Klamath Basin farmers.

"We're going to be working towards a general conservation plan, where we'll be able to have a biological opinion that will give us a lot more flexibility on dealing with fish issues than with just water," Kandra said.

As part of the process, the U.S. secretary of the Interior will conduct an analysis to determine whether dam removal is indeed to the benefit of fisheries resources and in the public interest. In addition, the safety of dam removal must be scrutinized through a public environmental review process under state and federal environmental laws.

More information about the new agreement may be found on the Interior Department Web site, www.doi.gov, or on the PacifiCorp Web site at www.pacificorp.com; click on News & Info to see the Sept. 30 news release.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.