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Dam demolition revived, Drawdown of water could start in 2020

Iron Gate Dam

A new path to Klamath dam removal is emerging.

A press release issued Tuesday by the Department of Interior, announced stakeholder parties to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) are looking for a way to amend the nearly defunct agreement and demolish four dams on the Klamath River.

According to the release, PacifiCorp, the Departments of Interior and Commerce, and the states of Oregon and California have created an agreement in principle that outlines provisions for altering the hydroelectric agreement.

They say the agreement doesn’t require any support or funding from Congress, which has stifled efforts to remove the dams as part of a comprehensive water settlement package for the Klamath Basin.

In the coming weeks, the parties will work with the KHSA’s more than 40 signatories to develop terms of the amendments, which will call for implementing the pact and removing the J.C. Boyle, Copco 1 and Copco 2 and Iron Gate dams from the Klamath River.

“We want to see the dams taken out and we would support any process that does that as quickly as possible,” said Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry. “Dam removal as a step to restoring salmon and steelhead to the upper Klamath Basin has long been a goal of the Klamath Tribes.”

The target date for signing an amended KHSA is Feb. 29, the release said.

“This agreement marks an unprecedented coming together of parties to seek solutions to difficult problems,” said John Laird, California secretary for natural resources. “California is committed to the implementation of the KHSA and to continued efforts to achieve a broad settlement of the issues that have plagued the Klamath Basin.”

A deconstruction plan issued by the Bureau of Reclamation in 2012 said in an effort to minimize impacts on threatened coho salmon and other fish, the agency recommended drawing down the river’s three larger reservoirs in the winter of 2020. The time ensures the majority of reservoir sediments will be transported downstream from January to March 15, when coho and several other native species are not present in the river in large numbers.

The dams would be deconstructed following the drawdown, the plan said.

Funding for removal identified

The dams are owned by PacifiCorp and run as part of the corporation’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project. The project starts in Klamath County and runs through Siskiyou County. It produces less than 2 percent of PacifiCorp’s total power output.

According to the release, the agreement in principle will allow KHSA parties to pursue new avenues for implementing the agreement, such as using administrative processes governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

PacifiCorp’s FERC license for the Klamath Hydroelectric Project expired in 2006. New environmental regulations require that the dams — constructed between 1922 and 1962 — are retrofitted to provide fish passage for salmon, steelhead and other fish before they can be relicensed.

PacifiCorp Spokesman Bob Gravely said money for dam removal has already been identified. A study by the Department of Interior estimated costs for removing the dams at about $290 million. The KHSA has provisions for covering costs up to $450 million.

According to Gravely, the first $200 million will be funded by Pacific Power customers. He said about $100 million in surcharges to fund the project has already been collected and placed in a trust.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has committed $250 million of the state’s budget for Klamath River restoration.

Craig Tucker, a spokesman for the Karuk Tribe, said the money available now might disappear or be re-appropriated to other projects if it’s not used for action on the Klamath.

In a statement, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell nodded to the years-long effort water stakeholders put in to reach a comprehensive set of solutions.

“We can’t let that local vision go unfulfilled,” she said. “This agreement in principle is an important initial step as we work toward a comprehensive set of actions to advance the long-term progress and sustainability for tribes, fisheries and water users across the Klamath Basin.”

Complicated history

Groups with a vested interest in water management in the Klamath Basin spent nearly a decade hammering out the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. Both agreements were signed in 2010.

The KBRA outlined conditions for equitable water sharing between farmers and tribes, and the KHSA has provisions outlining how four Klamath River dams will be decommissioned and removed from the river. Also in the KHSA is a provision that could transfer ownership of two upper Basin Klamath Hydroelectric Project dams to the Bureau of Reclamation.

In 2014, the two bills were joined by the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement, and wrapped into the Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act. The act spent two consecutive years stalled in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The KBRA finally expired on Dec. 31.

“Our worry since the beginning is that we would lose the dams and we’re still in this water war,” said Basin farmer Tracey Liskey.

Gravely said his hope is that divorcing dam removal — which has been said by many to be a non-starter in Congress — from the KBRA, may help the comprehensive water management and restoration package gain more support from lawmakers.

“I think everyone is hoping this is a way to jumpstart the broader agreement,” Gravely said. “If we’re able to do the dam removal — and do it on a different tract — the hope is there will be desire to move forward with the other pieces.”

Opposition remains

Scott White, the executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said the association “has not and will never support dam removal as a stand-alone agreement.”

“By abandoning the original collaborative concept of the Klamath Settlement Agreements, this agreement in principle creates a further divisive environment in the Klamath watershed.

“Given the relationships and mutual understandings built over the last decade, we expect that the other parties will recognize that this (agreement) alone is not the best solution for the entire watershed.”

White added that Water Users is working with Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, to create what Water Users considers a more complete approach to water solutions than the agreement in principle provides.

Curtis Knight, executive director of California Trout, a nonprofit fish and watershed advocacy group, said he is encouraged by the renewed commitment to remove the Klamath dams and the possibility of restoring salmon to more than 300 miles of spawning habitat in the Klamath watershed.

“Dam removal is an essential first step, but certainly not the only step, in this process. California Trout remains committed to the comprehensive vision behind the hard-won Klamath agreements, which identified a balanced approach to water use, environmental restoration and community sustainability throughout the Basin,” Knight said.



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