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 Klamath Courier 11/23/05

Tulelake Irrigation District holds election to raise operation rates

Write letters to FERC by November 28

(Original version)
By Jacqui Krizo, Klamath Courier Reporter

TULELAKE – Tulelake Irrigation District informed landowners at a meeting Thursday that their rates must go up to cover expenses, but eventually how high is anyone’s guess.

More than 90 farmers, ranchers and landowners came to hear about the special election and why the Operation and Maintenance, O&M, rates must increase substantially.

California’s Proposition 218 requires landowner approval prior to any increase of assessments that are based on property ownership. Renters of public lands in the district will also see an increase. If the majority of voters approve the rate change, TID will have the authority to adjust rates throughout the next ten years based on expenses.

Earl Danosky, TID Manager, Office Manager Grace Phillips, and Board of Directors Ed Baley, John Crawford, Jim Havlina, Gary Wright, and Bill Heiney, as well as Marc Van Camp from MBK Engineers, were there to present information and answer questions.

According to the MBK Engineer’s Report, the assessed special benefits provided by TID include "delivery of water, flood control and drainage, and protection of water rights and other matters. The amounts of assessment must be proportional to the special benefit conferred."

Required by law were Thursday’s informational meeting, a hearing which will be held in January, an engineer’s report, and a vote for whether the irrigation district may increase O&M rates. The election cost TID $100,000. The Engineer’s Report was used by the TID Board as a basis for the proposed maximum assessment. Costs are projected to increase over time.

Van Camp said there is a possibility of a maximum power rate increase of 2600 percent in 2006. The water adjudication process is costing $200,000 per year. Tens of thousands of dollars are being spent annually on regulatory issues, including the takings case, legal representation in ESA issues, and other litigation.

Project farmer John Crawford explained the alternatives to a rate increase. Irrigators could meter every irrigation pump and headgate at their own expense and be billed for actual water used. He said that would be a logistical nightmare because, due to regulations against moss and weed control, it could be physically impossible to keep the meters unplugged from moss. "It would be unworkable and terribly expensive."

Crawford’s said the second alternative would be to base O&M rates on projected crops that the farmer may or may not plant, compounded with soil types, causing a "bookkeeping nightmare."

- "It would provide Project Irrigators with a slow death."-

The biggest threat to Project Irrigators in the possible power rate hike of 2600 percent. Crawford said that would mean our eventual end; "It would provide Project Irrigators with a slow death."

Currently Project Irrigators pay pumping costs at several pumping plants to move water. D Plant is where excess and runoff irrigation water is pumped through a tunnel under Sheepy Ridge to Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge and into Klamath River. The benefit by Fish and Wildlife is being paid for by TID. Crawford said if the power rates increase substantially, it would make it impossible to afford pumping that water for the Lower Klamath refuges and Klamath River return. And it would make it unaffordable for many farmers to run sprinkler irrigation systems that they invested in to conserve water.

Farms and wetlands provide more than 50 percent, or 70 million pounds of food, for migratory waterfowl in the Klamath Basin, according to California Waterfowl Association President Ph.D. Robert McLandress, UC Davis ecologist. Leaseland farming, including many organic fields in public and private walking wetlands, may become unaffordable. The Bureau of Reclamation would then be responsible to pay the O&M charges currently paid by the irrigators of public lands for the TID operational charges on those lands.

- "They can’t wait for this to be another 2001 and wait until the damage is done" -

Scott Seus, chairman of Klamath Water Users Association power committee, stressed the importance of becoming involved in the power issues and attending meetings and writing to the Public Utilities Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  He said, "They can’t wait for this to be another 2001 and wait until the damage is done."

– Letters are due to FERC November 28, 2005 -

Seus said there will be a sample letter and address on the Klamath Water Users Association website, www.kwua.org and on www.klamathbasincrisis.org . If people don’t have computer access, they can contact Klamath Water Users at 541 883 6100 for the FERC address and case number. It is critical for every community member to send letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission explaining why the power contract of 1956 must stay intact.

The Klamath Project diverted water out of the Klamath Basin and into the Klamath River, which allowed land to be farmed, elevated historic Klamath River flows, and provided free water for power for the Power Companies. In exchange Copco power company promised the Bureau of Reclamation and Project Irrigators an affordable power rate for agriculture.
Seus said at the 2005 Centennial Water Users celebration, "Through EQUIP, we the Klamath Basin farmers and the Federal government will have invested 75 million dollars in irrigation efficiency by the end of 2007 in an effort to do our part to make the best use of the water that we use irrigate these lands." This water savings puts more water in the river to generate power.
Scott said if the power rate is raised 2600 percent, "…economics say flood irrigation will be more cost effective. Drainage pumps would become to cost prohibitive to operate, and thus the Refuge Complex will go dry."

The websites also have power sections explaining the history and importance of Water User’s negotiated power rate.
The community is welcomed to attend regular TID meetings held the 2nd Monday of each month at 8pm at TID office. They are public meetings with opportunity to ask questions and understand the duties and commitment of your irrigation district board and employees.






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