GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — In the first test of the landmark agreement to remove dams from the Klamath River, PacifiCorp formally complained Tuesday it was not properly consulted by federal agencies before they cut river flows that affect power production by the dams.
The Portland-based utility warned in a formal notice starting a process to resolve the dispute that they feel the reduced flows will cut their power production below levels set out in the dam-removal agreement.
"We're confident that once everyone follows the (dam-removal) protocol, this can be worked out satisfactorily," PacifiCorp spokesman Art Sasse said from Portland. "If these new flow restrictions are imposed permanently, assuming proper (Endangered Species Act) protections are in place, the economic conditions will mean delaying dam removal beyond 2020."
NOAA Fisheries Service, which oversees protections for threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages releases from Upper Klamath Lake into the Klamath River, imposed cuts in river flows last week to build up lagging reservoir storage so there will be enough water for salmon as well as farmers next spring.
Drought conditions last year forced cutbacks in irrigation to leave enough water in the river for salmon.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Klamath area manager Jason Phillips and NOAA Fisheries Service Arcata, Calif., area supervisor Irma Lagomarsino both said they felt they followed the terms of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the latest plan for restoring threatened salmon in the Klamath River.
"We want to formulate a way to do this that will not cause financial impact to PacifiCorp," Phillips said from Klamath Falls. "But ultimately we have to comply with the biological opinion from NOAA Fisheries. So we've got to make sure we can balance the two."
Low water conditions have long forced conflicts between supplying irrigation to upper Klamath Basin farmers and keeping enough water in the Klamath River for salmon as it flows from Southern Oregon through Northern California.
The U.S. Department of Interior is to decide in 2012 whether to go ahead with agreements signed by the states of Oregon and California to remove four hydroelectric dams owned by PacifiCorp that block salmon from hundreds of miles of habitat, restore Klamath Basin ecosystems, and assure water for farmers on a federal irrigation project.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved California's plan for cleaning up pollution in the Klamath River that are expected to impose new costs on PacifiCorp, farmers, and municipalities.
PacifiCorp is owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Warren Buffett's Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc.