a far cry from a done deal
Reality may be starting to set in for the proponents of
tearing out the Klamath dams: Not only is it a bad idea;
it’s a far cry from a done deal.
Removal of the four Klamath hydroelectric dams in Northern
California and southern Oregon would constitute the largest
dam removal project in United States history. But recent
comments from PacifiCorp, owner of the dams, reveal that the
truth about the perils of dam removal is starting to
removal on the Klamath River is a
natural-resource-management decision that PacifiCorp, as a
regulated utility, is unwilling to undertake because of the
substantial risks and uncertain benefits,” said PacifiCorp
in comments to the California State Water Resources Control
Board (Water Board) on Feb. 26.
declaration is particularly striking given that PacifiCorp
is perhaps the most important signatory to the agreement to
tear out the dams — the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement
Agreement, or KHSA. Per that agreement, the dams are
supposed to be destroyed — after being transferred from
PacifiCorp to the KHSA-created nonprofit, Klamath River
Renewal Corporation (KRRC). The decision to transfer the
dams is up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
county and its legal team has been working tirelessly to
provide decision makers like PacifiCorp and FERC with the
scientific and legal facts about the dangers of dam removal.
That would be Siskiyou County, home to three of the four
dams being considered for removal.
county’s latest action in the years-long fight came in
February, when it submitted comments to the Water Board and
county’s 85 pages of comments detailed the potentially
devastating impacts of dam removal on the overall health of
the Klamath River ecosystem, as well as impacts on people,
such as jeopardized cultural resources; exposure to
hazardous materials; uncontrolled flooding; traffic impacts;
and other damages to the local community.
Siskiyou County’s investment seems to be paying off. Not
only is PacifiCorp now humming a tune much similar to the
county’s, but FERC has been asking serious questions of KRRC
before it accepts the nonprofit’s plan. To date, KRRC hasn’t
provided FERC with satisfactory answers.
major concern is whether KRRC will be able to afford the
cost of dam removal, or that it will truly shoulder the
significant liabilities facing PacifiCorp and its customers
if the dams come out. Not only do the dams provide flood
control, they also hold at least 20 million cubic yards of
polluted settlement behind them.
inadequacy of KRRC’s plan is evidenced in a draft
Environmental Impact Report (EIR) released last December by
California’s Water Board. Although the draft EIR was
produced under the pretense of providing clarity on the
potential impacts of dam removal, the document has major
holes, coming across more as a rubber-stamping exercise than
an effort to truly analyze the potential impacts of dam
Water Board’s apparent lack of objectivity should come as no
surprise: California (as well as Oregon) is a signatory to
the KHSA. Can a signatory to KHSA — an agreement to tear out
the dams — be expected to produce an objective EIR on the
“Critically,” PacifiCorp wrote of the draft EIR, “it relies
on outdated data, inaccurately evaluates the impacts of
sediment discharges, and minimizes impacts to listed species
while also overstating adverse impacts related to continued
operation of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project.”
Death knell for sucker fish?
example of California’s “minimizing” of potential dam
removal impacts involves the endangered Lost River and
shortnose sucker fish.
year, the California State Legislature passed a bill
allowing KRRC to kill untold numbers of these two species
when (or if) it removes the dams. Meanwhile, farmers in the
Klamath Basin have taken major hits to their irrigation
water, all in the name of preserving those same sucker fish.
draft EIR seems to give KRRC many more passes, attempting to
exempt the nonprofit from air quality standards, greenhouse
gas emission standards, local regulations, and more. Notably
absent from the Water Board’s analysis, too, is any
consideration of the effect of dam removal on local
communities, including ranching and farming.
what may be most shocking about this draft EIR is that it
will most likely have to be re-drafted almost entirely once
KRRC gives FERC an acceptable plan — or rather, if KRRC is
able to do so. The whole EIR process would then have to
start again. The current draft EIR thus appears to have been
no more than a very expensive PR stunt, designed to make it
look like the KHSA is moving forward.
even if KRRC and the KHSA get more free passes from the
Water Board in the next EIR — if in fact the process gets
that far—that doesn’t put this project on the home stretch.
Other state agencies, federal agencies (including the major
decision maker, FERC), local governments, and very likely
Congress and the courts still stand between the dam-removal
activists and their goal.
Meanwhile, Siskiyou County will keep up the fight to bring
the truth to light. Thank you to all of you who are helping
in that effort.
— Siskiyou County Natural
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