The U.S. Interior Department and the California Department of Fish and Game have begun accumulating concerns and concepts from the public on what issues should be examined as part of a wide-ranging environmental analysis on the massive project. The examination will guide the decision of the U.S. Interior Secretary on whether removing the dams will help restore ailing salmon and other fisheries, and whether it will be in the public interest. The governors of California and Oregon also have to concur if the secretary decides to move forward with the effort.
Still of concern to some is whether the agreement hatched to remove the four dams -- the Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement -- should remain linked to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which caps but shores up water diversions to upriver farms and improves flows to salmon in the lower river. Supporters of the KBRA say removing the dams without the $1 billion restoration effort won't revive fisheries, while opponents claim tribal rights are undermined and that full funding isn't likely in a time of huge federal budget deficits.
”There's a whole bunch of things that stand in the way of getting the money for this project,” said Hoopa Valley Tribe senior fisheries biologist Mike Orcutt.
Orcutt said that while the tribe agrees the dams should come out, it wants to see provisions for improving the dismal water quality in the river and increased accommodation of Trinity River restoration. An examination of dam removal without the KBRA would be helpful, the tribe submitted in comments, as would an examination of other alternatives for comparison's sake.
Others told the agencies that it's the KBRA that makes the restoration of the river and its fisheries complete.
Yurok Tribe senior fisheries biologist Mike Belchik said that the purpose of the KBRA is to enhance restoration -- and that a key question would be to examine just what would happen if the dams are removed without the increased flows to fish provided for in the agreement.
”The whole point here was to do landscape-level restoration,” Belchik said.
The four dams that would come out are Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and J.C. Boyle, which are owned by Pacificorp out of Portland, Ore. The estimated cost is capped at $450 million, to be paid for by rate increases to Oregon ratepayers over 10 years, with California's $250 million share expected to be paid for through a water bond. The hope of supporters of the agreements is that the project will stop the constant crises over water for struggling fisheries and farms.
”I've actually seen how it affects communities and divides communities,” said Dennis Lynch, a U.S. Geological Survey program manager representing the Interior Department through the process.
Scott Greacen with the Environmental Protection Information Center said that any restoration plan should hinge on rebuilding the precariously poor population of spring-run chinook salmon, which are best suited to surviving in a reopened Upper Klamath River. Greacen also said that full ecological values of a restored river should be examined, including better water supplies for Upper Klamath wildlife refuges than are called for in the KBRA.
Addressing concerns about waivers of tribal water and fishing rights in the KBRA, Craig Tucker, Klamath campaign coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, said that the studies should aim to clear up misconceptions that tribes can't take legal action if those rights are impacted. He also defended the KBRA, saying that there are no guarantees of water for farms in the agreement, only a cap on how much can be diverted.
”What's capped in this agreement is agricultural water use,” Tucker said. “What's capped today is water for fish.”
On the Web: http://www.klamathrestoration.gov.
John Driscoll can be reached at 441-0504 or firstname.lastname@example.org.