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

For Immediate Release

April 18, 2014

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

Although any amount of permanent water demand reduction is a welcome step in the right direction for the Klamath Basin, the claims that the agreement signed today will alone resolve the region’s water wars are simply false. Moreover, joining this water pact with the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) would wipe out its purported gains. That’s because the KBRA calls for drought year water delivery increases from Upper Klamath Lake to the Klamath Project area that are well above the amounts of water this pact would provide to the lake.

It is clear that this agreement provides only a fraction of the water necessary to address the Klamath’s profound water imbalance. Even if this agreement were in place this year, it would not be anywhere near enough to let the Klamath Project operate at traditional levels, let alone provide any water deliveries to the now regularly parched Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, or leave enough water in reserve to meaningfully reduce the risk of another adult salmon kill this autumn in the lower Klamath River. The same is true if this agreement had been in place during the drought of 2013, or during the drought of 2010.

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.

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 related to refuge water supply and management. National wildlife refuge water supply issues were not addressed by the agreement signed today.

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.

In an unfortunate development, KBRA supporters have resorted to accounting gimmicks to mask the full taxpayer cost of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which remains near $1 billion. Despite the rhetoric, the taxpayer is still firmly on the hook for this excessively expensive proposal. WaterWatch strongly disagrees with this approach. The many people and communities dependent upon the Klamath Basin’s resources deserve better.