Klamath County votes to withdraw from water deal
KLAMATH FALLS — The Klamath County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to withdraw from an agreement that lays out how to share scarce water between fish and farms, control power costs for irrigators, and restore broken down ecosystems.
The Herald and News reported that the board voted 3-0 to have the county's lawyer draw up an order to drop out of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, with plans to vote on it again next week. The agreement is a companion to an historic deal to remove four small hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and Northern California to help restore struggling wild salmon runs.
Two other signatories of the agreement — the Karuk Tribe and the Klamath Water Users Association — say the county can't pull out, because the agreement is a binding contract that was just renewed for two more years.
“The Klamath County Commissioners are trying to put their own community on a disaster course,” said Craig Tucker, Klamath coordinator for the Karuk Tribe. “If the KBRA fails, there's no way to address the dramatic increases to irrigators’ power rates or create a soft landing for farmers when tribes use their senior water rights to fill the lake and river.”
Tucker added that there is a good chance the four dams will be removed anyway if the owner, PacifiCorp, seeks a new operating license from federal regulators.
Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, added that the county should bring its complaints about the restoration agreement to the table, where the 41 other groups — tribes, salmon fishermen, conservationists, local governments, and irrigators — that have signed it will give them serious consideration.
Members of the previous commission signed the agreement and voted to renew it before leaving office last year. Newly elected members of the commission campaigned on a platform of getting the county out of the agreements, expressing reservations about removing the dams, the impacts on the county's economy and water storage.
The county has been locked in a battle for decades over sharing water between farms and endangered salmon and sucker fish. Irrigation was shut down in 2001 to give the fish enough water to survive. When irrigation was restored in 2002, tens of thousands of adult salmon died in the river before they could swim upstream to spawn.