No Dam Deal In Klamath Settlement Talks


No Dam Deal In Klamath Settlement Talks

Proposed Settlement Deal Lacks Guaranteed Dam Removal, Guaranteed Water For Fish



Portland, Ore—The Bush administration is expected to release today one piece of a  “Klamath Dam Settlement Agreement,” the product of three years of secret negotiations over the future of PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River.  Despite a $1 billion dollar price tag, the agreement does not include any provisions for dam removal.  Additionally, the agreement fails to stipulate river flow levels for salmon consistent with what the best available science calls for, and contains language aimed at locking in commercial agricultural development on Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges for the next 50 years.


“The Bush administration’s settlement agreement is a billion dollar Christmas tree with money in it for every special interest in the Klamath Basin,” observed Steve Pedery, Conservation Director for Oregon Wild, a non-profit fish and wildlife conservation organization.  “What began as an effort to help salmon and remove dams has turned into a plan to farm American taxpayers.”


The Klamath settlement talks began over three years ago as part of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) process to re-license four PacifiCorp-owned dams on the Klamath River. While PacifiCorp initiated the talks, in 2007 the Bush administration and Klamath agribusiness interests disbanded the original settlement group and started a new process, excluding the only two state-based Oregon conservation organizations Oregon Wild and WaterWatch.  The deal that these Bush-backed talks have produced is contingent upon dam removal, but that deal is nowhere in sight.


The talks have instead centered on Bush administration guarantees to politically powerful agribusiness interests in the Klamath Basin. Included in the deal are generous water guarantees for the Klamath irrigation project, with no guaranteed flows for fish.  Even if met, the predicted flow levels in the Klamath River under the agreement would fall well below the levels the National Research Council (NRC) has endorsed to aid the recovery of salmon, particularly during the critically important late summer and early fall months.  The risk of insufficient water is again being placed on salmon, most likely in violation of the Endangered Species Act.


“In September of 2002, the Klamath River suffered one of the worst fish kills in US history because too much water was diverted by irrigation interests in a drought year,” said Bob Hunter, Senior Staff Attorney of WaterWatch.  “Instead of learning a lesson from that tragedy, the Bush administration has produced a sweetheart deal that continues to favor a handful of politically powerful agribusiness interests over the health of the Klamath River.”


The Klamath Basin once had the third largest salmon run on the Pacific coast. Today, salmon populations have dwindled to a fraction of their size as a result of irrigation development, dams, and water pollution.  In 2005 and 2006, commercial fishing communities in Northern California and along the Oregon Coast suffered devastating closures in an effort to protect what remains of the once mighty Klamath Chinook run.  The 2002 Klamath River fish kill, an event that the California Department of Fish and Game has linked to low river flows and excessive irrigation diversions, claimed as many as 70,000 fall Chinook before they could spawn and brought national attention to the plight of the river.


The new settlement agreement does little to permanently reduce the demand for water in the Klamath Irrigation Project, and may lead to extensive groundwater pumping—a scheme which would likely make matters worse. Included in the $1 billion price tag is a $92 million allotment for the Klamath Water Users Association—a commercial agricultural organization—to use federal tax dollars to establish their own plan for water management in the basin.


“Giving agribusiness interests almost $100 million dollars to develop their own water plan is like putting the fox in charge of coming up with a plan to manage the hen house,” noted Pedery. “Water allocation should be determined by scientists, not agribusiness.”


“The claim that the agreement will “resolve long standing disputes ” is just not credible when the agreement does not include a dam removal deal, does not guarantee river flows for fish in the lower river, and institutionalizes large-scale commercial agriculture on 22,000 acres of the nation’s premier National Wildlife Refuges,” stated Hunter. “Why the rush before there is even a dam removal deal?  We believe that is because time in running out on the Bush administration’s ability to deliver special interest giveaways to its political allies.”


The $1 billion settlement deal comes at a time of tight federal budgets and a worsening economy.  Oregon’s Congressional delegation has been struggling to secure $400 million to support rural schools and law enforcement through the renewal of the popular “county payments” program.  Given this fiscal reality, the billion-dollar price tag of the settlement agreement seems far-fetched at best. In addition, while the basin is in need of public funding for restoration and water demand reduction, unfortunately a significant portion of the billion dollars would go to private agribusiness interests and not to solving the basin’s problems.


“The Bush administration and agribusiness have come up with a deal that costs a billion dollars, fails to provide enough water for endangered salmon, continues to harm National Wildlife Refuges and doesn’t contain any provision for dam removal,” said Steve Pedery, Conservation Director with Oregon Wild. “They are putting forward an impossible plan and when it fails they are going to try and blame the Oregon and California Congressional delegations for not passing it.”


“While the package has important fisheries restoration components that are needed in the basin, the total package  is so loaded up with special interest giveaways to agribusiness that it is hard to see how it could credibly move through Congress,”  stated Hunter of WaterWatch.