Congressman Offers Draft Bill to Resolve Issues in Klamath Basin

Published February 22, 2016

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) released draft legislation on December 3 aimed at resolving a number of ongoing public land and water use conflicts in the Klamath Basin, which straddles the California-Oregon border.

Walden’s bill would transfer 200,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land to Klamath and Siskiyou Counties, split evenly. Supporters of the bill say the transfer would grow jobs in rural communities and improve forest health.

The legislation would also grant American Indian tribes in the Klamath Basin economic development funds and 100,000 acres of USFS land for timber production, in exchange for waiving the tribes waving their senior water rights claims.

‘Big, Bold, Proposal’

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, praised Walden’s proposal.

“Big, bold, and creative proposals are what’s needed to resolve these longstanding issues,” said Bishop in a statement.

“That means looking differently at the issue than the provisions and agreements that have been pending for over seven years,” said Bishop. “If we’re tied to these precedents that have failed, then we will fail in the future.

“[T]he federal land transfer provisions included in Congressman Walden’s draft legislation are ideas I could strongly support in order to move forward,” Bishop said. “While some immediately rejected any form of federal land transfer to empower local communities, I hope they will reconsider.”

Dam Controversy

The bill does not implement dam removal provisions related to the 2010 Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, an agreement negotiated between Klamath tribes, irrigators, anglers, conservation groups, a number of counties, Oregon and California, various federal agencies, and PacifiCorp, which owns four dams on the Klamath river.

Addressing this concern, Walden said, “By now it should be clear to all the parties involved there are not the votes in the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House to pass the Klamath Basin Settlement Agreement and related agreements as proposed.”

Oregon state Sen. Doug Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls) says if the dams are removed, the region will lose hydropower generation. Whitsett also says the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should be allowed to perform the tasks it is charged with, including making decisions concerning whether to relicense all, some, or none of the Klamath Basin’s hydroelectric dams.

Sen. Walden’s bill designates FERC as the agency charged with making any decisions about dam removal.

“In my opinion, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement was a political attempt to remove that decision from FERC authority,” said Whitsett. “I believe the dams should be modernized and enhanced to produce more carbon-free generation and relicensed.”

Contrary to claims made by those pushing for the removal PacifiCorps’ dams, Whitsett says removing the dams will do little to improve the Klamath Basin’s environment.

“Removal of the dams will serve little if any water quality or fish passage purpose, because the overriding cause of poor water quality originates in Upper Klamath Lake, has existed for millennia, and will continue to exist into the foreseeable future,” Whitsett said.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.