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Clock ticking on Klamath dam deal signing

by John Driscoll, The Times-Standard December 15, 2009

The deadline to sign the agreements to tear out the Klamath River's four main dams is only a month away. A few groups are still holding out and one has announced outright opposition.

The two draft agreements were released in September, the result of months of negotiations by 28 parties over the fate of the four dams owned by Portland, Ore-based Pacificorp. Since then, a number of the parties, including Humboldt County and three of four Klamath River tribes, have voted to endorse the agreement, along with a parallel $1 billion deal to restore habitat for fish and shore up water for farms.

Both the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Northcoast Environmental Center have voiced concerns about the agreement, and on Monday the NEC announced it was bailing out.

The hydropower deal has too many preconditions and opportunities for parties to pull out, the NEC said in a statement.

”Nothing in the deal places a limit on the number of annual license renewals Pacificorp can obtain without obtaining clean water certification,” said NEC Klamath Campaign Coordinator Jay Wright..

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is considering reissuing a 30- to 50-year license for the dams.

The NEC said it is working to push a legislative package with a number of other environmental groups that it believes would lead to dam removal prior to the 2020 timeline in the Klamath River Hydropower Agreement.

A number of other major conservation and fishing groups -- including American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations -- have opted to support the agreements.

The dam removal agreement would require that the U.S. Interior Department determine by 2012 whether the project will restore salmon runs and be in the public interest. Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2, and J.C. Boyle dams would begin to come out in 2020, paid for with up to $450 million from dam owner Pacificorp's ratepayers and a California water bond. A 2010 bond is set to come before Californians, but the $11.1 billion measure is seen by many as far too expensive in the fiscally plagued state and some are concerned provisions in it could threaten the Trinity River.

The dam removal deal would be signed along with the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a $1 billion effort to restore fish and wildlife habitat, provide more water for fish and more certain water deliveries for irrigators in the Upper Klamath Basin.

The Yurok, Karuk and Klamath tribes have been championing the agreements, saying they represent the most sure-fire means of removing the dams and shifting management of water on the river in favor of salmon and other fisheries.

Karuk Tribe Klamath Coordinator Craig Tucker said that the NEC's decision to oppose the deals drains energy from supporters' efforts to get dam removal skeptics like Siskiyou County to shift their positions in favor of the river's restoration. But he said that the NEC's opposition is unlikely to pose a problem moving forward with the deals.

”I do not think they will stand in the way of progress,” Tucker said.

John Driscoll covers natural resources/industry. He can be reached at 441-0504 or jdriscoll@times-standard.com

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