Democratic News

Washington, D.C. – Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today called for a new solution to water issues in the Klamath Basin, including possible federal legislation, to lower costs and address the concerns of all stakeholders in the region.

“My own take with respect to these intractable resource challenges is that nobody in a situation like this gets everything they want. Nobody gets everything they believe they deserve. But working together we can find a way so that everybody gets what they need as part of a lasting solution,” Wyden said at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I want everybody to understand that we are going to stay at this until we find a solution.”

The hearing featured a free-flowing discussion between 17 witnesses representing on- and off-project water users, state and local governments, tribes, utilities, conservation groups and federal agencies.

Four principles should guide any lasting solution, Wyden said: there needs to be long-term certainty that irrigators will get the water they need; the federal government has the right to approve or deny any dam removal, although PacifiCorp has the right to make a business decision; the Klamath Tribes must be part of the solution; and it must ensure the recovery of fish runs.

Wyden praised efforts to find a compromise to date, but said more work needs to be done to ensure the needs of the entire basin are addressed, at a cost that can pass through Congress during a time of limited federal budgets.

“After considerable thought, I have concluded that the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is simply unaffordable in the current federal budget environment,” Wyden said. “Working in good faith, there has got to be a way to accomplish the agreement’s objectives with a lower price tag.”

At Thursday’s hearing Wyden announced that PacifiCorp, the Bonneville Power Administration and Interior Department have reached an agreement to significantly lower power rates for on-project farmers in the near future. Wyden pledged to work for a basin-wide solution that would provide relief for all farmers in the basin

“I discussed this with Congressman Walden last night and both he and I and Senator Merkley agree that we need rate relief for all our farmers,” Wyden said. “My own sense is this will require legislation, but there may be other ways to provide power rate relief for off-project users.”

In addition to the agreement to lower power rates, Wyden pointed to several positive developments at the hearing: California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird committed to fully funding California’s portion of agreements, a discussion of trading improved water quality for reserving a share of water for irrigators, and work by the federal government to lower the costs of a solution.

Water shortages have already led to cut-offs for some off-project users this year. Wyden said he’s committed to working with them as part of his effort to ensure the needs of the entire Klamath Basin community are addressed.

“To the parties that have not reached a compromise and are experiencing a water cut-off, I am committed to sitting down with you and the other basin interests to find a long term solution that reflects both the anticipated water supply in the years to come and the economic issues that you face as family farmers,” Wyden said.

Prior to the hearing, Wyden invited public comments on a path forward at Klamath@energy.senate.gov, and received more than 4,000 responses. He renewed his call for public comment at that address as he crafts a new solution to Klamath water issues.

Archived video of the hearing, testimony and a full list of witnesses are available here.