PORTLAND, Ore – Tomorrow, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will consider S. 133, The Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2015. This troubled legislation has languished in Congress for several years, but is currently being promoted by Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. Among other controversial elements, this legislation authorizes tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to flow to the Klamath Water and Power Association (KWAPA). A contract between the Bureau of Reclamation and KWAPA is currently under investigation for misuse of funds by the US Department of Interior. These violations include possible criminal actions.
“With a federal investigation underway and allegations of criminal behavior by this Klamath agribusiness group, it seems insane that the US Senate would continue to push forward on legislation to grant it tens of millions more dollars in taxpayer funds,” said Oregon Wild Conservation Director Steve Pedery. “Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley need to take a step back from this legislation and let the investigation run its course before sending more money to this group.”
Earlier this year, two biologists for the Bureau of Reclamation came forward to accuse the agency of illegally spending nearly $70 million in their dealings with the KWAPA. They pointed to a 2008 contract to pay for a feasibility study for fish and wildlife, and purchase water “for the direct benefit of fish and wildlife habitat.” The five year study had since been amended 17 times and extended to 2023, at several times the original cost and with no reported progress on the feasibility study. Instead, the whistleblowers argue, the contract had become a fund for the KWAPA to pay for office space, salaries, fringe benefits, equipment and travel. The complaint was referred to the federal Office of Special Council, which then directed Interior to perform a formal investigation.
The board of the KWAPA recently voted to remove the organization’s executive director, but did not reference the federal investigation or any displeasure with the director’s performance in their decision.
The Bureau of Reclamation and KWAPA are integral elements in the implementation of the Klamath water bill, mentioned in the text of the Klamath Basin Resoration Agreement over 90 times. Specifically, the KWAPA plays a key role in preparing the On-Project Plan, administering the allocation of water, power subsidies, and participating in the Technical Advisory Team. While S 133 does not specify the amount of money that will be administered by the KWAPA, earlier versions of the legislation appropriated $92.5 million for the KWAPA to prepare the On-Project Plan.
“Despite a slick marketing and PR campaign, the KBRA really does nothing to bring the demand for water back into balance with supply in the Klamath Basin,” continued Pedery. “Rather than rushing wasteful and ineffective legislation, Senators Wyden and Merkley should let the investigation of this Klamath irrigation group go forward and focus their energy on real solutions to the water crisis.