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.


Write a comment
  1. GoneWithTheWind
    GoneWithTheWind 15 November, 2010, 16:13

    This is not about salmon. It is about a belief in restoring to pre-Columbian pristine-ness. It is a religious like belief that man is bad and we need to sacrifice for the earth. Salmon runs in the multi-millions could easily be restored with hatcheries. But government biologists will tell you they aren’t the same even though they cannot tell them apart. Coincidently many government biologists will be required to sheppard the return of the “natural” salmon runs. But don’t assume they are biased…

    Reply this comment
  2. Bruce Ross
    Bruce Ross 15 November, 2010, 16:21

    That the people of Siskiyou County have been rendered outside observers of a major potential change in their landscape is indisputable. That they prefer the dams to a wild river seems clear as can be from the vote.

    But the notion that the KBRA is some kind of scheme to ship the Klamath’s water to Los Angeles, as envisioned by 1950s Reclamation engineers, is preposterous nonsense. Such a project would cost billions, violate more federal environmental laws than I can count, and run counter the very clearly expressed goals of the KBRA.

    I’m surprised this otherwise reputable website would publish such baseless conspiracy-mongering.

    Reply this comment
  3. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 15 November, 2010, 17:07

    Reply to Bruce Ross
    Re: “I’m surprised this otherwise reputable website would publish such baseless conspiracy-mongering.”

    Mr. Ross: Most respectfully, the Klamath Diversion Project is not a conspiracy but was a project once planned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. My source is Wikipedia – link here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_Diversion

    Paranoia is an unrealistic fear. But there is no paranoia about the Klamath Dam Removal Project evolving into the formerly planned Klamath Diversion Project because there is a realistic basis to it. That Siskiyou County residents fear that there may be a threat to their water and property rights is also based in potential reality. If more water will flow through the Klamath then this may affect adjoining properties along the river (e.g., flooding, high and low flows, colder waters affecting fish, etc.).

    Additionally, a portion of the proposed California Water Bond would partly fund the Klamath Dam Removal in the state of Oregon. Surely, this must realistically raise concerns as to why California would want to fund dam removals in Oregon.

    Thank you for your comments and criticism but I believe my statements are well supported and that Klamath County residents are not “conspiracy nuts” to suspect water is at issue here.

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  4. Barbara Decker
    Barbara Decker 15 November, 2010, 17:19

    Great article which I will add to my collection of information verifying the implementation of Agenda 21/sustainable development which puts all living creatures above humans, the bad guys! This is one where the voters expressed their vote NO.

    Reply this comment
  5. Susan
    Susan 15 November, 2010, 21:12

    Mr. Ross apparently wants to divert our attention away from the possibility that the Klamath Basin Settlement Agreement is nothing more than the Klamath Diversion Project proposed in 1960 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation only couched in different terms. He can smear those who bring this to our attention as “conspiracy nuts” but the fact is that if more water is diverted from Oregon to California what would you call it but a diversion project, not a fish habitat restoration project. As they say in Oregon, if it quacks, waddles, and looks like a duck, it’s a duck. The proposed Klamath River Diversion Project is a historical fact not a conspiracy concocted by a journalist or group of citizens in Siskiyou County. But we can thank Mr. Ross for drawing attention to an issue that is getting no attention in the media except at CalWatchDog.

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  6. Mary Gribble
    Mary Gribble 16 November, 2010, 00:45

    It would take a fool to believe that removing dams on the Klamath River will not result in more water flowing to California via the Klamath and Trinity Rivers. Why else would California float a huge $11 billion water bond, $1 billion of which is to go to dam removals in Oregon? And isn’t the main backer of this bond the Metro Water Department of Southern California?

    The only other explanation I can come up with is that California wants to phase out cheap hydropower from Oregon so that California’s Green Power has no competition. The proverb that water runs uphill toward money would apply in this case.

    There are many better and cheaper solutions for fish than removing dams along the Klamath River. Bruce Ross’s accusation that those in Siskiyou County that question whether fish are really the reason for dam removals are some kind of conspiracy nuts insults those who read his newspaper. With all due respects to Mr. Ross, his argument “smelts” when it comes to this issue.

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  7. Bruce Ross
    Bruce Ross 16 November, 2010, 07:40

    Mr. Lusvardi,

    Sure, Reclamation sketched a plan. Reclamation also sketched a plan to turn the Trinity River into a series of lakes and pump the water back up them. Heck, Reclamation sketched a plan to dam the Grand Canyon.

    But Floyd Dominy is dead, and the dam-building heyday of the mid-20th century preceded all manner of laws — the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, NEPA, etc. — that make big dams and diversions all but impossible to build. There’s a reason we California hasn’t built a major new reservoir in a generation, and there’s a reason why even relatively modest, relatively environmentally benign projects like adding a few feet to Shasta Dam or building Sites Reservoir up in the Coast Range take decades to complete (if indeed they ever come to fruition).

    I’m a skeptic of removing the Klamath dams. I like hydropower. I don’t think “re-wilding” California’s far north (the tacit goal of some enviro groups) is feasible or desirable. And state and federal officials should treat local needs and concerns more seriously.

    But nobody will be diverting the Klamath’s water to Los Angeles. Not in this century.

    Reply this comment
  8. Bruce Ross
    Bruce Ross 16 November, 2010, 07:53

    Ms. Gribble,

    My understanding is the water bond includes $250 million — not $1 billion — to pay California’s share of the dam-removal costs. And Iron Gate and the Copcos are in Siskiyou County, which is in California geographically — if not always in spirit.

    Reply this comment
  9. Will Harling
    Will Harling 22 November, 2010, 22:30

    I was born and raised in Siskiyou County, and still live here. Happen to be among the minority of the county’s residents that actually live on the Klamath River and believe a healthy fishery will produce more wealth than the dams here. It really pisses me off when everyone that relies on the fishery (guides, commercial fishermen, lodge owners, tribal families, tackle shops, etc) get thrown into your catch-all label, “environmentalist”, Mr. Lusvardi. Power from those dams creates wealth for PacifiCorp and a little tax revenue for Sisk Co on the side, but the salmon that have been steadily declining since they were built create wealth for working families from Fort Bragg on the coast all the way up to Iron Gate Dam. What about all the other locals that have been getting screwed ever since the dams went in?
    On another note, my reading of the KBRA Section 20.5.4.C. on “Out-of-Basin Water Transfers: The Parties (except state agencies with direct decisional authority over such transfers) shall make all reasonable efforts to oppose any additional out-of-basin water transfers from the Klamath River Basin” leads me to question your conclusion that the purpose of this plan is to ship water South. But I see your brand of investigative reporting doesn’t necessarily need to rely on what documents actually say, but on the predisposition of your readers. Clever, Mr. Lusvardi, clever.

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  10. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 26 November, 2010, 04:10

    Mr. Harling:
    My article was not obviously not an investigative report but an opinion-editorial (op-ed). The article was intended to be provocative.

    As to the accusation by you and Bruce Ross that I have written “baseless conspiracy mongering,” I would refer you to the book The River Stops Here by Ted Simon (University of California Press, 1994).

    From page 12: “In the offices of the big construction companies and consulting firms were maps showing how all the rivers would be tamed. Where an atlas would show the Eel, the Klamath and the Trinity as a tracery of thin black lines meandering from the mountains to the ocean, the engineers’ maps showed them gorged and swollen like varicose veins by a multitude of dams and reservoirs, backed up to each other like steps in a staircase. The whole scheme, statewide, was to cost something like $12 billion.”

    The proposal to have the Klamath-Trinity Rivers flow to the California Delta is also mentioned in the book Cadillac Desert (citied in my article).

    For further clarification, former Governor Reagan signed the “Wild Rivers Bill” in 1972, proposed by former Marin County Supervisor Peter Behr, for a “wild and scenic rivers act” to protect the Eel, Trinity and Klamath Rivers for at least 12 years. Another parallel bill proposed by former state senator Randolph Collier called the “Protected Waterways Act” supported by water agencies was concurrently forwarded to Gov. Reagan for signing, but Reagan did not sign it.

    This is not conspiracy mongering but history.

    Not to argue with you but to dialog, if the proposal to rid the Klamath of dams was a mitigation project it would show up in an EIR somewhere as such. I haven’t been able to find evidence this is a mitigation project.

    If it were an electricity related project to eliminate hydropower now that California is shifting to green power under Cal Assembly Bill 32, then the proponent for funding the dam removals would be an electric provider or the California Energy Commission not funded as part of a water bill supported by MWD, DWR.

    If it isn’t mitigation and it isn’t energy related it must be a water project?? Do you have any further thoughts?

    Reply this comment
  11. Dr. Richard Gierak
    Dr. Richard Gierak 8 December, 2010, 21:49

    I hold degrees in Biology, Chemistry and a Doctorate in the Healing Arts and have lived on the Klamath River for 23 years. I have been a participant in FERC relicensing procedures and part of a Hatchery Evaluation Team in addition to a Fish Passage Advisory Team. Extensive research into the predominant cause for the decrease in Salmon from California to Washington is not due to dams or human activity but is as a result of historic rise in Pacific Ocean Temperature. For a complete viewing of this data from NOAA, NASA and NMFS it is presented in the following youtube video.

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