Klamath controversy continues

An agreement to remove four dams has been reached, but barriers remain

Organizations such as Klamath Riverkeeper support removal of the four dams on the river but remain concerned about the agreement.

Organizations such as Klamath Riverkeeper support removal of the four dams on the river but remain concerned about the agreement.

Photo courtesy of Klamath Riverkeeper

Dan Bacher is the editor of the Elk Grove-based Fish Sniffer magazine and a longtime advocate for fishery restoration in California and the West.
For a copy of the Klamath hydropower agreement and an executive summary, go to www.edsheets.com.

In the largest dam-removal project in history, the federal government, three American Indian tribes and 25 other parties released a tentative agreement last week providing for the removal of four Klamath River dams owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway company.

The Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement would remove Iron Gate, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2 and J.C. Boyle dams by 2020, opening up historic habitat above Iron Gate Dam to the migration of coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead for the first time in nearly a century.

“This agreement marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Klamath River and for the communities whose health and way of life depend on it,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “Hats off to all the stakeholders who have worked so hard to find common ground on one of the most challenging water issues of our time.”

Nevertheless, the agreement has earned mixed reviews from many of the stakeholders involved, indicating much work still needs to be done before it is approved.

The Yurok, Karuk and Klamath tribes have supported the process, touting it as an unprecedented opportunity to restore the Klamath, historically one of the West’s great salmon and steelhead rivers. Likewise, most fishing groups have backed the process.

“We haven’t seen salmon in our country for 90 years,” said Jeff Mitchell, council member for the Klamath Tribes of Oregon. “This agreement represents our best chance of finally bringing the salmon home.”

“The Klamath River Basin has been used to support farming, local power needs and commercial fishing for over a century, all at the expense of the health of the ecosystem that supports a wide array of plant and animal species,” said Curtis Knight, Mount Shasta area program manager of California trout. “After years of complex negotiations among interest groups and dam owner PacifiCorp, we have come to an agreement that will dramatically change the landscape along the Klamath.”

However, some environmental groups and farming organizations are split over the agreement, and the Hoopa Valley tribe has opposed the pact, calling it an “Old West water deal.”

“We all agree dam removal is necessary for the improvement of Klamath-Trinity Basin health, and the recovery of salmon runs,” said Mike Orcutt, Hoopa tribal fisheries director. “But the theme of putting the business needs of PacifiCorp above area of origin and tribal water rights concerns us.”

The Klamath Riverkeeper’s Erica Terence said her group is particularly concerned about a new clause that would give California, Oregon, the federal government and PacifiCorp the power to amend the agreement without the consent of other parties under some circumstances.

“While many of Klamath Riverkeeper’s concerns about the viability and environmental impacts of the draft dam-removal agreement have been largely addressed in the final version, some have not,” Terence said.

Klamath Riverkeeper also remains concerned with the dam agreement’s compliance with the water-quality requirements laid out in the Klamath total maximum daily loads, a Clean Water Act pollution cleanup plan currently being finalized on the main stem Klamath. Another question left by the agreement is who will pay to clean up poor water quality around Keno Dam, Terence said.

Greg Abel, chairman and CEO of PacifiCorp, lauded the agreement, describing it as a “balanced and reasonable outcome that best protects the interests of our customers, while achieving the policy objectives of the states and federal government, as well as helping to peacefully resolve numerous conflicts in the Klamath Basin.”

The KHSA will be complemented by the implementation of a companion agreement, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. Proponents say the KBRA would significantly increase water flows for fish, provide greater reliability of irrigation water delivery and help ensure the future economic viability of the Basin fishing and farming communities.

“Of course we’d like to see the dams removed tomorrow, but the reality is we must make sure dam removal is as safe as preliminary assessments suggest and that it can be done cost-effectively,” said Steve Rothert, California field office director for American Rivers. “For a restoration action that is simply unprecedented in scale and scope, this is actually a reasonable timeline.”