Walden unveils irrigator legislation
To an audience of Klamath Basin irrigators and residents, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., unveiled the Klamath Infrastructure Improvement Act — House Resolution 4239 — Friday morning.
It is water legislation aimed at bringing down the costs of power for local irrigators to prices seen in similar Bureau of Reclamation projects.
Since the expiration of two separate power agreements in 2006, many irrigators in the Klamath Basin have experienced extremely high power rates, which the legislation aims to alleviate. Walden officially introduced the act in the House of Representatives on Thursday.
I don't have to tell anybody in this room about the incredible importance of agriculture in the Klamath Basin,” Walden said.
“We have 1,000 farms in Klamath County … We have 650,000 acres of farmland in the county. Combined crop and livestock sales annually reach approximately $200 million. Agriculture is essential to the lifeblood of Klamath County, but frankly, our entire congressional district.”
The bill directs the U.S. Department of the Interior to conduct a study to identify "concrete" steps to take the bring the costs down, and requires a plan to lower the rates to be implemented within 180 days of the study's completion. A start date for the study was not available as of press time.
Walden also emphasized it was “especially fitting” that the legislation rolled out the week of the observance of Veterans Day.
“Originally, many of today's Klamath farms were first homesteaded by those who fought for freedom in far off lands in World War I,” Walden said.
The bill, about eight months in the making, also contains the following provisions to help lower power costs for irrigators:
Alleviates full responsibility for the costs of pumping water at the Tulelake Irrigation District (TID). TID could then enter into an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation;
Designates the reconstruction of the C flume Emergency and Extraordinary Operation and Maintenance (EEOM);
Authorizes federal reimbursement for some D Plant pumping costs when in the federal interest, such as providing water to wildlife refuges;
Eliminates the need for federal contracts or permits for conveyance of non-Klamath Project water such as groundwater.
U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., is a co-sponsor of the legislation.
“We're working on this together,” Walden said.
Walden draws local support
The Klamath Infrastructure Improvement Act drew support, applause, and emotion from some, including Klamath County Commssioner Donnie Boyd. Boyd spoke on behalf of the commissioners.
“I've personally worked with Greg since 2001, fighting the local water challenges … and it's emotional to me, as you can see,” Boyd said, his voice breaking as he read from a speech.
"This bill will help address the rising costs of power for our local producers, provide tools to manage water as efficiently as possible, and to provide important infrastructure improvements that are needed to continue the tradition of agriculture in the region."
Scott White, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, who worked with Walden on the legislation, spoke about a recent tour of irrigated land he gave which shows a propensity for local irrigators to flood irrigate instead of using the efficiency of a pivot, in order to save on power costs.
"In many cases, a lot of people are going to flood irrigating because of the cost of power," White said. "Affordable power helps on farms and also the efficiency of the project as well."
Brad Kirby, manager of TID, expressed his and the district's support for the legislation especially for the provision addressing the D Plant cost.
“Other than reliable water supply, addressing the power cost issue is of the utmost importance, especially for TID,” Kirby said in a letter addressed to Walden. “Our vast network vertical lift pumping plants allows us to move, conserve, and reuse water with unparalleled effectiveness and efficiency among similar types of irrigation systems.”
Walden also received letters of support from Klamath Irrigation District board of directors, Klamath County Economic Development Association (KCEDA), Klamath Drainage District, Oregon Water Resources Congress, Klamath County Chamber of Commerce, Shasta View Irrigation District, Malin Irrigation District, Enman Farms, and G bar V Wright Ranch.
The house resolution is similar to Senate Bill 1460 passed by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., as part of a broad energy and natural resources bill pending in the U.S. Senate.
Brian J. Johnson, California director of Trout Unlimited, responded to the legislation in support as well as hope for even more work to be done.
Johnson called the legislation an “important step” but said there is much more to do to achieve lasting and equitable solutions, such as greater water certainty for fish, irrigators, and refuges, the return of land to the Klamath Tribes, and new economic development for the basin's communities.
The event was the second of the morning for Walden, who led a town hall at Lost River Junior/Senior High School at 8 a.m. for more than 100 people in attendance.