Locals Excluded From Klamath Dam Plan

NOV. 15, 2010

Will Siskiyou Residents Lose Property Rights To Environmental Interests?


The last eruption of Mount Mazama in the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon occurred over 7,700 years ago and scattered mineral ash as far as the Canadian border to the north, and creating Crater Lake and the Klamath River system as an aftermath. To the south it scattered ash as far south as the present location of Sacramento, the Capitol of California.

Just to the south in Siskiyou County in northern California, Mount Shasta last blew its top about 200 years ago. The French Navy Commadore Jean Francois de Galaup viewed the eruption and recorded it on September 7, 1786 on his ship, “The Astrolabe,” from as far away as the California coast.

During the summer winds called “Northers” blow hot air and pollen from the northerly Siskiyou Mountains on Sacramento. Today, volcanic eruptions and hot winds of a different sort continue to blow on Sacramento, now even reaching as far south as Los Angeles.

A recent political eruption in Siskiyou County in northern California, population 50,000, occurred on November 2nd when 79 percent of the voters recorded their opposition to a plan to dismantle three dams (Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2) and associated hydroelectric power plants along the Klamath River in Oregon purportedly to return the river to a “wild” state and restore Salmon runs and habitats. Warren Buffett owns the dams.

The Klamath River runs from Klamath Lake in Oregon through Siskiyou County in Northern California to an ocean outlet on the California coast. Except for the dams, the Klamath provides an ideal spawning habitat for anadromous Salmon that need to migrate from the ocean to fresh water to reproduce. The Klamath branches into the Trinity and Salmon Rivers in northern California.

The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement between Oregon, California and the U.S. Department of Interior to remove the dams and indirectly provide California with more water has been widely reported in the media as a “done deal.”

One glitch to removing the dams, however, is that the $1 billion demolition cost has to partly come from California’s proposed $33 billion Consolidated Water Bond which was pulled from the November 2010 California ballot due to the public’s anti-tax mood and deferred until the 2012 election (the $33 billion includes $11 billion in bonds, interest and local matching requirements).

Another possible glitch has been to get the “locals” in northern California and southern Oregon to buy-in to the plan with notions of tourism, sport fishing and environmental restoration to replace farming, ranching and cheap hydro-power. The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors was not included in the negotiations for the Klamath Basin Settlement Agreement (KBSA) and there were no public hearings before it was agreed and signed. Locals in Siskiyou reportedly suspected a land and water grab, not environmental restoration, when they were left out of the approval process.

In a prior action the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors approved by a 4-1 majority vote, to put Measure G on the November 2nd ballot as a purely advisory measure to poll public opinion in the County about the dam removal project.

Even though it was an advisory measure only and not legally binding, the measure served finally to give Siskiyou County voters a voice on the issue. Siskiyou County is a Republican stronghold that has expressed that neither Sacramento nor Washington, D.C., has given them an opportunity to be heard on the proposed expansion of the flow of a river that is the defining topographical and economic feature of their county.

By analogy, imagine having an existing right of way corridor for an Interstate highway that runs through your county and both the state and federal governments have a plan to double the traffic volume and you have no say so in the issue.

In response to the proposed Klamath Dam Removal Project, residents formed the Siskiyou County Water Users Association (SCWUA), a tax-exempt organization to defend property and water rights in the county. The SCWUA is an educational organization comprised of ranchers, farmers, biologists, foresters, engineers, lawyers, Grange Masters and Native Indians to develop and review scientific alternatives for saving fish, “if the true agenda for dam removal is saving fish.” SCWUA’s web site is here:

The Klamath Diversion Project

Siskiyou County residents suspect there is another agenda given the history of proposed Klamath River diversion projects. In 1960, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation proposed the ambitious “Klamath Diversion Project” which would have diverted the waters of the Klamath River in Oregon and Northern California to arid Southern California. Initially, this proposal would have allowed for other states in the southwestern U.S. (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah) to receive a larger share of waters of the Colorado River by supplanting Southern California’s allotment of Colorado River Water with Klamath River water. A tunnel running most of the length of the state of California was proposed to carry Klamath River water to the Sacramento River, around the Sacramento Delta, and then southward under the Tehachapi Mountains to the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The Klamath is the second largest river system in California and carries almost as much water as the Colorado River. The original 1960s diversion plan would have mostly destroyed any salmon runs and habitats and, thus, was originally opposed by the Yurok Indian Tribe and commercial fishermen. Interestingly, in the 1960s the city of Los Angeles reportedly viewed the Klamath Diversion as a “ploy to encourage it to relinquish its claim on the share of the river [the Colorado] it considered its own” (Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert, 1984, p. 270).

Back to the future

In 1786 when de Galaup was exploring the California coastline in sailing ships, the French were looking for lands to colonize along with Spain and opportunities for fur trading and whaling. Second Lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte applied for the expedition but was left behind in France. William Bolts, a merchant-adventurer looking for enterprise opportunities, had interested Louis XVI and his court in the expedition.

France did not establish any colonies in California but Spain and Russia did. Spain used religious missions as part of its colonization strategy.

In the early 1900s, William Mulholland sent a small militia army to Inyo County in northern California to protect the Los Angeles Aqueduct that had been blown up by local opponents to his project to bring water to Los Angeles. Earlier, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) sent shill buyers to start purchasing farm and range land to “colonize” Inyo County for the Mono Lake reservoir and aqueduct to ship water to Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times editor and land speculator Harrison Gray Otis infamously obtained the rights to the water for potential land subdivisions in what is now San Fernando Valley.

At least the stealthy land transactions involved buying the land in Inyo County at then fair market value. Of course the LADWP wasn’t willing to share the mark up for the higher and better use of the water downstream. Even if government had legitimately acquired land in Inyo County for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, government could have bought land at low prices upstream and sold water downstream at high prices hiding behind U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ legal concept that just compensation was “what a property owner lost, not what they could gain.” When Enron pulled off this “buy low, sell high” strategy during the California Energy Crisis of 2001, it was called “gaming the system.” But Inyo County landowners who recognized the Los Angeles Aqueduct Project of the early 1900s as a possible water grab were accused of wanting “holdout” prices.

Today, both the federal and state governments want to remove dams upstream along the Klamath River and increase the flow of water through Siskiyou County purportedly for environmental restoration purposes.

Instead of taking land and water rights by covert means enforced at the barrel of a shotgun as did Mulholland’s operatives and agents, today an army of environmentalists often propose to do much the same thing only under the cover of fish and riparian habitat restoration. But typically there isn’t any just compensation afforded to affected land and business owners under a “regulatory taking” as opposed to a physical taking. Economic losses are not compensable if they stem from regulatory actions, unless inverse condemnation can be proven in a costly court action where landowners would have to bear all the upfront costs.

Siskiyou County residents have not as yet established what, if any, property or water rights they would lose as part of the Klamath River Dam Removal Project. But government has left the county in the dark as to how it might impact them. And then there is the possibility of the burden of taxation by the proposed California Water Bond but without any public hearings in the affected county and with no representation in the Klamath Basin Settlement Agreement.

True environmentalism is about species protection, not necessarily protection of special interests or the creation of lucrative business opportunities for the well connected.

For more on the Klamath Dam Removal Project – see here.

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