WaterWatch of Oregon Statement Regarding Announcement of a Klamath Basin Water Agreement

For Immediate Release

March 5, 2014

WaterWatch of Oregon Statement Regarding Announcement of a Klamath Basin Water Agreement

While reducing upper basin irrigation water demand by 30,000 acre-feet is a welcome step in the right direction, it is nowhere near enough to solve the profound water imbalance impacting the entire Klamath Basin. Joining this positive new agreement with the controversial and costly Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) would be an unfortunate step backward and would actually erase its much-needed gains for downstream salmon. That’s because the KBRA doubles down on the bad policy that got us into this mess – promising far more water than is available in many years.

WaterWatch encourages and supports the continued progress of negotiations between The Klamath Tribes and off-Project irrigators regarding upper basin water issues. However, it is clear that the amount of water demand reduction identified in the agreement announced today will provide only a fraction of the water necessary to achieve a sustainable level of farm and fisheries production in the severely over-allocated Klamath Basin.

We urge Senators Wyden and Merkley to include additional water demand reduction in any related federal legislation, including some downsizing of the Klamath Irrigation Project and the voluntary retirement of other water rights throughout the basin.

WaterWatch of Oregon is one of a number of Klamath Basin Task Force (KBTF) members who have expressed strong disagreements with significant elements of the KBTF report and its recommendations. WaterWatch does not endorse the KBTF report.

We continue to have serious concerns over water supply for Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges, as well as the portions of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) related to refuge water supply and management. National wildlife refuge water supply issues were not addressed by the Task Force, despite repeated requests by WaterWatch and others.

We urge Oregon’s Senators not to include any new electrical power subsidies for upper Klamath Basin irrigators in federal legislation. There would be no public policy purpose for this subsidy. It would provide an unfair competitive advantage over other nearby farmers and ranchers who just happen not to own lands in the Klamath Project or Klamath County, and encourages wasteful power use as well as wasteful water use – as this power is used to pump water. Past subsidized power rates in the Klamath Basin contributed to the basin’s water crisis and also made it economical to drain wetlands on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges for harmful commercial farming on refuge land.

Contrary to a number of public statements, the KBTF did not achieve significant reductions in the high cost of the Klamath agreements for taxpayers. This is something that Senator Wyden clearly requested from the KBTF last year. Rather, the KBTF report relies mostly on accounting gimmicks to mask the full taxpayer cost of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which remains near $1 billion. We strongly disagree with this approach.