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Bureau works to resolve issues

Published on May 11, 2012 3:01AM

Last changed on June 8, 2012 8:11AM




For the Capital Press

In little more than a month, the Bureau of Reclamation will celebrate 110 years of reclaiming the arid West. For 105 of these 110 years, we have been in this basin constructing, operating and maintaining the Klamath Project, which helps inject more than $600 million a year into the local economy and supports thousands of jobs.

I am proud of our work in the Klamath Basin, and I look forward to many more years of partnership between the Klamath Project and the communities it serves. On May 3, I helped celebrate the installation of the Klamath Irrigation District's C-Drop Hydropower Project, which will generate hydropower from the drop that occurs when water is moved between canals on the Klamath Project. This small hydropower project is one more example of Reclamation's commitment to the long-term viability of irrigated agriculture in the Klamath Basin.

As we look forward, we must not forget the lessons of the past. Irrigated agriculture, tribal fisheries in Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River, our wildlife refuges, and the commercial fishery, all continue to suffer from variable hydrology, an over-allocation of resources and lack of a firm water supply.

This uncertainty in water supplies jeopardizes the economy built on this complex ecosystem and creates strife and conflict that cut at the core of our communities. While we cannot make it rain, we can collaborate on solutions that address the Basin's interests. This is, of course, the purpose of the Klamath Agreements that are the subject of bills before Congress.

On my trips to the basin, I have heard concerns about the costs of implementing the Klamath Agreements. I agree that we should have a vigorous discussion about the costs of the agreements, but this discussion must also consider the costs of not implementing these agreements -- costs which are significant and real.

Whether it is continuing uncertainty and limitations on water supplies and increased power costs for farmers, a continuation of fishing restrictions for the commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries (the Klamath Tribes, for example, have not had an open and sustainable lake fishery for more than 25 years), or more impacts on our wildlife refuges, maintaining the status quo would not be without significant cost.

A very real example of the cost of not implementing the agreements is one that would fall on all PacifiCorp ratepayers. PacifiCorp's dams are now operating under an expired license. Under well-established law, if the facilities are relicensed, ratepayers will pay at least $460 million for legally required modifications to address fish passage and water quality needs, yet the facilities will generate 20 percent less power because of operational changes that would also be required.

In other words, if the dams are not removed, the rate-paying public will pay more for less. Because of this, the public utilities commissions of Oregon and California found that the settlement alternative, embodied in the Klamath Agreements, is in the best interests of ratepayers. Add to this the continued litigation, conflict in the community, costs associated with drought and fisheries closures and disaster relief payments to keep working families whole, and suddenly the cost of doing nothing is very high.

Notwithstanding the broad range of benefits of the Klamath Agreements, I understand the concerns in some communities about the agreements' potential impacts, and we are working hard to identify and evaluate all costs as well as ways to mitigate for these impacts. As committed to by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, our science and environmental review process continues to be open and transparent. The process is still ongoing as we evaluate and review the analysis in light of comments from the public and independent peer reviews.

While we anticipate the release of additional documents this summer, the secretary will make no determination regarding PacifiCorp facilities until federal legislation is enacted authorizing the Klamath Agreements.

In closing, I want to reiterate Reclamation's commitment to the communities of the Klamath Basin. As commissioner, I see the challenges that face farmers and ranchers throughout the West, and tribal communities as well. We will continue to work with you and do our best to manage those challenges in a constructive and realistic way that will serve the interests of all who depend on the water resources of the Klamath Basin.

Michael L. Connor has been commissioner of the federal Bureau of Reclamation since 2009.


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