Guest Opinion: PacificCorp must accept responsibility for removing its dams

Mail Tribune

by Bruce Shoemaker

We don’t expect Warren Buffett to keep tabs on the inner workings of all the companies he owns. But he needs to know what is going on right now with one of them: Portland-based PacifiCorp. That’s because Buffett and PacifiCorp have an opportunity to simultaneously do something extraordinary for one of the great rivers of the West while making a very prudent financial decision for ratepayers and shareholders.

After decades of controversy and campaigning by area tribes, fishing and environmental groups, what is likely the largest dam removal project to date worldwide is poised to commence on the Klamath River in far-Northern California and Southern Oregon. Four aging hydropower dams are on the brink of being removed, reconnecting hundreds of miles of habitat for salmon and other species blocked for more than a century by dams built without fish passage. In addition, the improvements to water quality and fisheries that will result from dam removal help reduce regulatory burdens on area farmers and ranchers.

But it isn’t only fish and tribes that will benefit from freeing the river. Removing the antiquated dams is in the financial interest of Buffet and his shareholders. That is because the state of California has written a check for $250 million to underwrite more than half the cost. PacifiCorp pledged $200 million, which has already been collected from its customers through a special surcharge. But the agreement that set the terms for dam removal included the idea that PacifiCorp could make its financial contribution to the project and then walk away with no liability. Two dozen parties — including numerous conservation organizations, tribes, federal agencies and two states — agreed to that demand in a settlement deal with PacifiCorp. Many conservation leaders had to swallow hard at giving a wealthy corporation such a sweet deal, but decided it was worth it just to get the dams down as fast as possible.

But the multiparty pact requires the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which in July signaled approval for the approach in general, but with a twist — PacifiCorp does not get to walk away completely from the project before the dams are removed. The public interest is not served by allowing a utility to make a fortune off an environmentally damaging project without seeing it through to the end, when these dams are removed.

So now PacifiCorp is balking. They want to study the issue. That is code language for delay, and crashing salmon runs don’t have time for corporate dithering.

What’s to study? The issue is crystal-clear.

The options are: 1) Accept a $250 million gift, enjoy layers of liability insurance paid for by the state of California and ratepayers, and restore salmon runs hovering on the brink of extinction, or 2) Walk away from a quarter billion dollars of public money, build new fish ladders and invest in other environmental fixes with costs likely to exceed $500 million, invite lawsuits and additional agency regulations related to endangered species and water quality violations, and perpetuate an injustice on native peoples whose livelihoods and cultures are being decimated by the dams. Talk about liability. And it would all be on PacifiCorp, their customers and their shareholders.

The clock is ticking. FERC wants an answer. California and Oregon want an answer. Tribes want an answer. The conservation community wants an answer. Every delay further endangers critically important salmon runs. PacifiCorp has to either accept the conditions laid down by FERC, or face the scrutiny of an America that is increasingly interested in justice for indigenous communities and other marginalized groups.

Warren Buffett and PacifiCorp, we need your decisive leadership. Please make the decision now that will get this done. This is the very definition of a win-win.

Bruce Shoemaker is a researcher on hydropower and rivers and lead editor of the 2018 book about the World Bank and hydropower, “Dead in the Water” (University of Wisconsin Press). Since 2019, through an affiliation with International Rivers, he has been focusing on dam removal in the Klamath Basin, where he lives.


Guest Opinion: Dam removal is a win-win for river and irrigation

Mail Tribune

by Dave Strahan and David Moryc

A dam removal project in the Rogue River watershed this summer is proving that it’s possible to find solutions that benefit both salmon and farms.

The Lower Bridgepoint Dam on Williams Creek, a tributary to the Applegate River, provides water for irrigation, but restricts habitat for Chinook and coho salmon, as well as steelhead and lamprey. Now, thanks to the collaboration of the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council and with support from the Bureau of Land Management and private landowners, the dam is coming down and the habitat will be restored.

This dam removal adds to the ongoing restoration efforts in the mighty Rogue River watershed, renowned for its world-class sport fishing. These projects help Rogue River salmon sustain recreational and commercial fishing, despite recent droughts that have devastated fish in other rivers in the state.

One of the keys to this success has been creative thinking around water infrastructure solutions. Two farms that currently rely on the dam for their water — Whistling Duck Farms and Blue Fox Farms — will benefit from a more modern, efficient water supply system. A headgate will be installed to divert water into a new irrigation pipeline, while water in Williams Creek flows unimpeded.

These are the types of win-win projects we need right now, as our region faces multiple interconnected challenges. Healthy rivers are the source of all life, yet they’ve been dammed and degraded for decades, and salmon runs are struggling. The economic downturn is creating new strains for individuals and businesses, while climate change is creating growing threats to water supplies, river health and local food security.

We can strengthen our communities and build resilience in the face of these threats by restoring river health and investing in water infrastructure. American Rivers recently released a report, “Rivers as Economic Engines: Investing in clean water, communities and our future” which details the jobs and economic benefits of clean water and river restoration (read the report at

For example, a 2010 study from the University of Oregon found that every $1 million invested in watershed restoration creates 16 new or sustained jobs on average. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many rural communities rely on for their livelihoods. The Outdoor Industry Association’s National Recreation Economy Report found that Americans participating in water sports and fishing spend over $174 billion on gear and trip-related expenses. And, the outdoor water sports and fishing economy supports over 1.5 million jobs nationwide and 1 out of every 20 in Oregon.

The dam removal project on Williams Creek is a great example of the type of project we need to see more of, here in Oregon and across our region. It’s why American Rivers, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and local communities are calling on Congress to invest $500 billion over 10 years in rivers and water infrastructure. This kind of investment will pay off in a stronger economy and healthier communities for generations to come.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio has been a staunch supporter of clean water and smart infrastructure investments, including most recently to support critical wildlife migration as a part of a package of legislation that he sponsored and ushered out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which he chairs. We applaud his leadership and urge him to continue support collaborative and creative solutions for healthy rivers and communities.

When Lower Bridgepoint Dam comes down this summer, the story won’t be about what’s being taken away. The story won’t be about losing a dam. It will be about gaining something new — a healthier river, a more efficient water supply and stronger connections between people and nature. It will be about building a better future.

Dave Strahan of Grants Pass is a board member of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. David Moryc is senior director of American Rivers.


Radioactive waste in Oregon


Radioactive waste in Oregon

Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer. He shares his opinion frequently in the Keizertimes.

Radon gas has become a concern since its presence in quantity was first detected and that’s because it can—and often does—result in cancers, sometimes fatal.

Radon’s origin is the decay of radioactive elements found in soil and rock. Radon gas presents itself in human areas through the air we breathe as well as underground and surface water. Radon gas naturally occurs throughout the world and has been commonly found in Oregon, including where we live, here in the mid-Willamette Valley.

Additionally, we now learn that Oilfield Waste Logistic of Culbertson, Mont., has delivered to Arlington, Oregon, illegally dumped disposal of radioactive fracking waste at a chemical landfill there. And to date, with possibly more on the way, they’ve been unloading their toxic brew by misrepresenting it to the depths of 2 million pounds of radioactive waste. The documentation submitted reads that such material cannot legally be disposed of in Oregon, say officials with the nuclear safety division at the Oregon Department of Energy.

However, according to reports on the violation, the landfill operator in Gilliam County, Chemical Waste Management, is not facing any consequences by penalty of fine or otherwise. The 2 million pounds of radioactive material from Bakken oil fields in Canada’s Manitoba and Saskatchewan provinces as well as Montana and North Dakota, includes highly contaminated filters, tank sludge and slurry from drilling pipes transported to Oregon aboard unmarked railcars over the last three years with the “door open” apparently for more to come without the imposition of consequences or immediate removal of what’s already been delivered.

The Chemical Waste people report that Oilfield Waste Logistics did not truthfully describe the waste shipped to Oregon along with the disturbing fact that Chemical Waste also did not send samples to an independent technical expert for analysis prior to accepting it. Chemical Waste says they’ll work with the Oregon Department of Energy which sounds like a-day-late-and-a-dollar-short scenario as wimpy and irresponsible as anyone could dream up and expect publicly acceptable.

Meanwhile, no one is being punished or forced by law or contractual obligation to correct what’s been done and those persons, apparently, who are twiddling their thumbs and generally ignoring this abomination, including Gov. Kate Brown and our legislators who are busy again fighting over carcinogenic emissions by a cap and trade law by which the Republican, once again, are threatening to walk out of the capitol and hide away like a collection of over-stimulated kindergarteners protecting their no-controls, benefactor-provided “candy” supply.

So this collection of toxins from the devil’s kitchen sits and rots, spewing its cancer-causing agents into Oregon’s air and ground/surface water throughout the state, including the Columbia River. Then, also, there’s the exposure to anyone living nearby, tourists, commercial transports on I-84, general commerce, the dams and recreation.

This huge dump of toxins and carcinogens is an example of the result of the removal of regulations by the current federal administration. Regulations for safeguarding the public are going away. Business and industry are free to pollute and expose to health and life-threatening conditions, the lives of our children, our workers and the general citizenry. An opportunity to end the recklessness now underway rests with the American people in early November, 2020.


Farmers view on junior water rights and the environment

Bend Bulletin

June 18, 2019

This is my 50th year farming in Madras. I’m the son of an Idaho farmer who came to the North Unit Irrigation District (NUID) in 1948. Father took the first delivery of water on the Agency Plains north of Madras in June of 1948 after the Willow Creek siphon was repaired. He was always concerned if NUID would have enough water to raise the crops in all years.

NUID is the second largest irrigation district in Oregon and is junior to the other seven Deschutes Basin irrigation districts. NUID’S 1916 water rights were the last issued and received the smallest per acre allotment. With the best elevation and climate Madras farms have raised the highest economic value crops in Central Oregon: ladino clover, potatoes, grass seed, peppermint, garlic seed, alfalfa, fresh radish, onion and carrot seed.

Now, because of the drought and spotted frog augmented flows, junior North Unit District Irrigation is suffering the most. Our Wickiup Reservoir failed to fill, and our board has set this year’s allotment at 18 inches on Deschutes acres and nine inches on Crooked River rights. While other districts within the basin with 72-inch allotments will receive normal deliveries (equivalent to 72” of rain delivered in the six month irrigation season). It takes at a minimum of over 30 inches to grow most crops.

My farm, like many of my neighbors, must idle crop ground. I have 578.1 acres with water rights and will fallow 182.3 acres or 31.5% of my cropland. However, I paid for the full allotment of $43,112.91. Competing in a world market makes this unsustainable.

For the greatest agricultural economy in Central Oregon to continue to thrive several changes must take place.

Oregon water law must be amended to allow intra-district transfers of abundant water from upstream districts to NUID. One acre of Deschutes County districts’ water will water 3 acres in Jefferson County.

Beneficial use is when water is used for agriculture. When watered cropland becomes urbanized those water rights should go to the junior water right holders as the law was intended, and not held solely for power generation or revenue producing via instream leasing.

Water diversion from storage in NUID’s Wickiup Reservoir to meet “The Habitat Conservation Plan” must be realistic. Considering factors as the drought that NUID has been facing, as well as timelines for completing conservation practices. Continued stored water takings will be catastrophic for NUID’s farmers and its community.

The goal of The Coalition for the Deschutes, lawmakers, and Oregon Water Resources on conserving water in the Deschutes Basin is a priority. It can only happen when those districts with the greatest potential to conserve water do so, and money that is needed to complete those projects is available. Today, funding is a challenge and takes time.

Water is precious and costly for Madras North Unit farmers. We have implemented: 24-hour water measurement and delivery, tail water recovery, gated pipe, ditch piping, low pressure pivots and drip irrigation. As the frog and upper Deschutes instream flow requirements increase, all districts must conserve and share the burden.

Should Jefferson County farmers be the only irrigators to suffer because of the frog? “Junior” does mean junior; but what business can take a 25-30% reduction in its income stream and survive? Our seed warehouses, fertilizer and equipment dealers, our employees, plus Madras and Culver retailers also have a stake in the game. Saving the basin for frogs, fish and environmental concerns can’t be just about NUID. It is about everyone in the basin sharing for the greater good and changing their past ways. Water is recognized as the life blood that benefits agriculture, which in turn provides for wildfire buffers, wildlife habitat and helps the environment. The choice is farms versus houses and urban sprawl.

Junior Water Right holder, but hopeful.

— Gary Harris is a Madras farmer, current Jefferson County Farm Bureau vice president and served on the Land Conservation and Development Commission from 1996-2004.


Proposed groundwater drilling rule unsustainable

January 22, 2019

Klamath Falls Herald and News

Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) is gearing up to cripple the Klamath Tribes’ already limited ability to safeguard rivers, streams, springs and seeps in our treaty-protected homeland.

Sitting in the audience of a recent advisory committee meeting (a group of about 20 dominated by ranchers and farmers), I heard state employees announce that OWRD’s plan to reduce the tribes’ ability to “make calls” (stop agricultural irrigation) on wells within a mile of surface waters is to be reduced to a mere 500 feet. They went on to state that the reason for the change was to avoid burdensome litigation brought by irrigators.

With this change, the number of agricultural wells that the Klamath Tribes can prevent from harming life forms sustained by rivers and creeks — using our supposedly superior in-stream water right — will decrease by about 95 percent.

In other words, OWRD is planning to make critically important hydrological decisions with profound ecological consequences for overtly political and monetary reasons.

From a purely economic perspective, this is a smart decision. An alarming number of tribal members eke out a living near and below the federal poverty level.

By contrast, multi-million dollar agricultural estates owned by non-tribal people occupy the best sectors of reservation lands taken from the Klamath Tribes through a forced termination of our federal status. (Indeed tribal members struggle to find access to the rivers where our treaty with the United States says we are entitled to fish).

So if OWRD is betting that the agriculture industry in the upper basin has deeper pockets than its original inhabitants, that’s a good bet. But at what cost to the health of our beautiful sacred homeland?

We don’t have to look far to see the disastrous consequences of attempting to drill one’s way out of human-made environmental calamities brought on by unsustainable agricultural practices.

Parts of California’s San Joaqin Valley have sunk as much as 28 feet, including three feet in only the last two years, as agriculture continues to over pump deeply stressed groundwater supplies. Whole homelands have become wastelands. Domestic wells go dry. When the ravaging is complete, only the poor (often indigenous) peoples are left clinging to a tenuous existence.

Despite our serious differences, none of us living in the upper basin want to see the obvious consequences of California’s over drilling repeated here.

We the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin peoples love our homeland. We belong to it. When we tell you that the present course is unsustainable, we know what we are talking about.

Please listen.

Clay Dumont Jr.

Guest column: Deschutes should not be damaged for personal profit

Most Central Oregon residents are aware that the Deschutes River is severely compromised. However, the public is not getting all the information needed to make intelligent choices about the Deschutes River.

Some 90 percent of the water withdrawn from the Deschutes River is for irrigation. By comparison, all industry and municipal withdrawals amount to 5 percent. In other words, if the only withdrawals were for cities like Bend, the Deschutes would still be a functioning river.

As a result of agriculture withdrawals, the historic flow of the river of around 700 cubic feet per second is sometimes reduced to a shocking trickle of 20 cubic feet per second with serious consequences for the aquatic life dependent on continuous flows.

What the irrigators don’t want the public to know is that all water in Oregon is publicly owned.

Indeed, an article in the Law Journal confirms this public ownership. The Oregon Supreme Court “maintains that Oregon’s public trust doctrine is grounded on public ownership of natural resources held in trust by the state in sovereign ownership. The state has always claimed ownership of water and wildlife within the state, so the courts should recognize both as public trust resources.”

What we see with regards to the Deschutes River is a failure of the state to preserve the public’s ownership and protection of our water and river system.

Why is this important? Because irrigators are removing water from the Deschutes River that belongs to all Oregonians and using that water — for which they pay nothing — for their private profit.

The term “water right” is thrown around all the time. Do not be misled by the term “water right.” In reality, we are talking about “water privileges.”

Irrigators have no legal right to our water. What a “water right” addresses is who gets water and how much if, and only if, the public decides to allow water withdrawals for “beneficial uses.” The public can redefine what is “beneficial.”

We can decide that keeping our water in the Deschutes River for fish, frogs, recreation, scenic, watershed and other values is a higher use of this water than growing low-­value crops like hay in the desert that can easily be produced elsewhere without draining our rivers.

For nearly a century, the public has never challenged the idea that our water can be removed from our rivers for free by irrigators.

But the Deschutes Basin Study, a collaborative heavily stacked with irrigation districts, suggests options: that we must pay to “lease” our water so we can put some back in the river or alternatively, taxpayers are asked to pay for things like piping or more efficient irrigation equipment (which by the way enhances the value of the farms and ranches who participate) so that we get back some of our water back in the river.

In an effort to partially repair the damage done by water withdrawals, the Basin Study proposes the option of spending perhaps as much as $1 billion dollars of taxpayer funds so that irrigators can continue to produce about $10 million in crops annually. Mind you, even if we expend this money, we will not be getting the full historic flows back in the river. So, the river system will still be degraded.

In the case of the Deschutes River, we are being asked to give away OUR water to irrigation districts for FREE, and use it for their profit, while the public is left with a degraded river and the bill for this proposal. This is a classic case of privatize profits and socialize costs.

The philosophical question that should be asked is why anyone should have the “right” to damage and impoverish public waterways for their personal profit. Ultimately this is the issue at hand, and so far, the Basin Study is refusing to ask that question.

— George Wuerthner is an ecologist and author of numerous books. He lives in Bend.



The KBRA killed the Klamath River

I’m still livid over the March 29 Times-Standard deck head under the headline, “Salmon season likely to reopen” which read, “Hoopa tribe overharvested salmon by 10 times its share, agencies say.” Who determined the Hoopa Tribe’s “share”? The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s position has always been that the 80/20 allocation of in-river harvest, established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the late 1980s was an arbitrary decision not based on federal law or legal precedence. But, at the time, it wasn’t an issue because there was ample Trinity River salmon for the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s subsistence needs.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe only harvests in-river Trinity River salmon. For decades the Hoopa Valley Tribe watched the offshore commercial fishing industry, and the Yurok Tribe overharvest; and every drought year since the 1970s the Hoopa Valley Tribe has filed lawsuits in federal court for emergency releases of 50,000 acre feet of Trinity River water to protect salmon habitat for Trinity River escapement without so much as an amicus brief from the Yurok Tribe, the county Board of Supervisors, or PCFFA. Just last year the Times-Standard reported that Federal District Court “Judge Orrick directed the BOR to implement flow measures that were developed by the Hoopa Valley Tribe and supported by the best available science.” To my knowledge, neither the Yurok Tribe, nor PCFFA, nor the Board of Supervisors has taken any action, legally or politically, to force the release of one gallon of water to protect the Klamath and Trinity River fisheries. Instead, they all signed the “fish and chips” KBRA agreement and created this environmental disaster that killed the Klamath River Fishery

The Hoopa Valley Tribe was excluded, and remains so, from Klamath River/ PacifiCorp negotiations because the Hoopa Valley Tribe would not surrender its water rights or the right to sue the United States for violations of tribal fishing rights and environmental law. The Klamath River runs are now on the verge of extinction because the KBRA reallocated 375,000 acre feet of water annually from water intended for salmon restoration, to Oregon irrigators (375,000 acre feet of water is 122,194,125,000 gallons.) Oregon got this volume annually for 10 years, the total 10-year amount of 1,221,931,250,000 gallons. The Hoopa Valley Tribe, to protect its fishery sued almost annually for an additional 50,000 AF from the Trinity dams to offset this illegal taking of 375,000 AF of Klamath River water.

What did the KBRA achieve? There were four major groups that participated: PacifiCorp, two states, federal agencies, tribes and environmental groups. PacifiCorp’s liability for dam removal was transferred to the States rate/tax payers. PacifiCorp and its owner, Berkshire-Hathaway, made $230 million ($23 million a year for the 10 KBRA years) without having to spend a dime on restoration, water quality, volitional fish passage, or dam removal. The Oregon irrigation interests got $32 million in federal funding, and 375,000 AF of Klamath River water for agriculture from the endangered Klamath River salmon base flow allocation for 10 years. The Yurok and Karuk Tribes each got a 10-year, $15 million funding agreement from USFWS and BOR ($1.5 million a year) , in exchange for waivers of their rights to sue for violation of their treaty fishing rights, or the ESA, for any damage caused by the KBRA. The California non-governmental organizations (NGOs) got to stay at the table for future grant funding.

Whose side were the federal agencies on? They paid off the tribes to keep the water in Oregon. The California Water Quality Review Board refused to set water quality standards and hold PacifiCorp accountable. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved annual operating licenses for PacifiCorp in violation of federal law because of the KBRA. And now that the Klamath River is dead the “agencies” accuse the Hoopa Valley Tribe of overharvest? The Hoopa Valley Tribe needs to sue for its rightful share of 50 percent of in-river harvest because all that’s left is the Trinity River run. The KBRA proponents put budget before salmon and killed the Klamath River. Hoopa has two words for their accusers in response to this false accusation: “Fish on.”

Lyle Marshall is a Hoopa Tribal citizen.


Peter DeFazio: Modernizing our Columbia River Treaty

By Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Peter DeFazio

Nearly 60 years ago, the people of British Columbia and the United States’ Pacific Northwest came together to craft a treaty that became an international model for sharing benefits across a trans-boundary river. Framers of the Columbia River Treaty crafted a long-term agreement but also recognized that a future generation would need to update the terms to address changing situations. That’s where we are today.

The treaty created value for both nations over 60 years, providing the U.S. with enhanced electric power production and flood control benefits downstream, and compensating Canada for these benefits. At the time, Canada lacked the resources to develop their own hydropower resources, but compensation from the U.S. has allowed them to build dams and drastically increase their hydropower production. As stated on the province’s website, British Columbia today enjoys some of the lowest electricity rates in North America, in large part due to compensation from the U.S. as part of the Columbia River Treaty.

The U.S. continues to pay Canada for flood control in the form electric power benefits, a cost paid in part by electric ratepayers in the Pacific Northwest. The payments to Canada were expected to decrease as new technologies replaced carbon-free hydropower but they haven’t. Now, we need to reevaluate and update the terms of this financial commitment to ensure it remains beneficial for the people of the Pacific Northwest.

The “Regional Recommendation” was finalized in 2013. It was painstakingly negotiated by stakeholders in the Pacific Northwest and provided to the State Department as a template for negotiating principles. Three times the bipartisan Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation endorsed the Regional Recommendation and urged the State Department to move forward. At long last, the State Department and Canada will begin formal negations this year.

The treaty was negotiated prior to our nation’s awakening to the need for environmental protection. The Regional Recommendation recognizes ecosystem protection as one of the three main goals in renegotiations. We agree it needs to be addressed, while recognizing the work already being accomplished under the Endangered Species Act, as well as the benefits to ratepayers and flood control.

In 2025, an ad hoc, unplanned flood control regime will replace the existing operation unless the treaty is renegotiated. The uncertainty of this system and the potential for disputes needs to be addressed. We continue to urge the Army Corps of Engineers to lead and define an optimal strategy for paying Canada for flood control benefits — one proportionate with flood control actions as the Corps does to benefit communities across the country.

As co-chairs of the Northwest Energy Caucus, we will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to build a better future for the Pacific Northwest, and an updated and fair Columbia River Treaty is vital to that goal.

— Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Northwest Energy Caucus.


Canada: Columbia River Treaty a boon to the U.S., but must benefit all (Guest opinion)

By Brandon Lee

Early in the new year, Canadian and American officials will meet to discuss the renewal of one of the most enduring examples of our strong partnership – the Columbia River Treaty.

Under the treaty’s terms, three dams and reservoirs in British Columbia, and one dam in Montana that floods the Kootenay Valley into B.C., provide flood protection and help generate hydroelectricity downstream in the United States.

For more than 50 years, this benefit-sharing agreement has reliably prevented major flooding in the lower Columbia River Basin. It’s helped manage water flows to generate carbon-free electricity. It’s fueled technology booms from the jet age to cloud computing. And it has provided stable water levels for irrigation, shipping and recreational use across the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The treaty also has become a critical platform for recent efforts to protect endangered salmon and to begin restoring some of the river’s natural functions. The treaty has done all this while helping provide the Pacific Northwest with the lowest electricity rates in the U.S.

The Canadian government has been working closely with the Province of British Columbia, Canada’s indigenous people and communities within the Canadian portion of the Columbia River basin. We look forward to sitting down with our American partners to talk about the future of the treaty, and to take stock of changes that have occurred since the treaty was ratified in 1964.

Though the treaty has provided benefits to Canada, there are ongoing significant costs for holding back flood waters on the British Columbia portion of the river basin. Canada’s indigenous people and local communities have dealt with drastic fluctuations in reservoir levels causing environmental, economic and cultural losses for the benefit of our downstream neighbors.

The original objective of the Columbia River Treaty was to create and share benefits between the United States and Canada. For Canada, the starting point for discussion on the modernization of the treaty is recognition of the multiple benefits created by the treaty in the U.S., and the continued equitable sharing of these benefits. This must remain our shared goal going forward.

We see a tremendous opportunity to build on a great foundation by continuing to improve environmental conditions and the many economic and cultural benefits that can flow from a renewed treaty. We need to strive for a flexible, basin-wide approach to the challenges of climate change, while also modernizing flood risk management and producing carbon-free electricity.

The Columbia River Treaty has been an important element of the Canada-U.S. partnership. By approaching renewal of this agreement together in a spirit of shared benefits, we can both improve on the existing benefits while addressing new priorities and needs.

Brandon Lee is the Consul General of Canada to the Pacific Northwest, making the first public statement on his country’s negotiating stance on the topic. He lives in Seattle.


EDITORIAL: Agriculture the most important use of water

Capital Press

November 23, 2017

When it comes to farming in the West, all you have to do is add water.

With water, the West has blossomed. Take a look at the vast Columbia Basin in Washington and the Snake River valley in southern Idaho. And the Central Valley in California. And all of Eastern Oregon.

Anywhere water is available, the predominant color is green, with high-value and high-yield crops dotting the countryside. Without water, the countryside is brown or growing dryland crops with much lower yields.

In Western Oregon, especially the Willamette Valley, water has been less of an issue. Owing to a healthy annual rainfall, many farmers have done well without the benefit of irrigation. With irrigation, others grow an impressive variety of high-value crops, from the nearly $1 billion-a-year nursery industry — the largest ag sector in the state — to livestock and specialty crops. The valley nurtures a robust agricultural industry, complete with food processors and exporters. Six of the state’s top 10 agricultural counties are in the Willamette Valley, including Marion County, the top producer with more than $600 million in agricultural production.

For that reason, if no other, we would expect Oregon leaders to make the well-being of Willamette Valley agriculture a top priority.

That’s why a couple of recent studies should be concerning to them and anyone involved in Oregon agriculture.

A recently announced study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has set off a debate among the region’s water users, including farmers and ranchers. In it, the Corps, with help from the Oregon Water Resources Department, has decided that only 16 percent of the nearly 1.6 million acre-feet stored by 13 federal dams in the Willamette Valley would be used for irrigation. By contrast, 60 percent would be set aside for fish and wildlife.

The Corps is seeking comments on that. Here’s ours: More water is needed for agriculture. A lot more.

Any limit on irrigation represents a limit on agriculture. Cropping patterns are constantly changing. As water becomes available, that means farmers can grow higher-value crops and get higher yields.

To cut off irrigation at such a paltry amount tells farmers and ranchers that they aren’t a priority despite their success as stewards of the land and economic drivers for the state. It’s as though the amount of water designated for agriculture was an afterthought.

Another study, by Oregon State University, adds alarm to our reaction to the Corps and OWRD study. It predicts that by the turn of the next century, Willamette Valley farmers will be irrigating more because of the changing climate. It also found that the lack of infrastructure — pipelines and canals — to distribute water around the valley will limit irrigation. More infrastructure can be built, but more water can’t be made.

Another concern that came out of the OSU study was that the region’s growing population will ultimately max out the water supplies of several cities. That means as more water goes to flushing toilets and other household uses, agriculture faces the possibly of being squeezed out.

Agriculture should not be seen as just another use of water. It should be seen as the most important use. Farmers and ranchers produce the food we all eat. Doing that requires water.