By Charlton H. Bonham, Steve Rothert, Glen Spain, Brian Barr, Curtis Knight, Mark Rockwell and Petey Brucker

Few natural resources conflicts in the country have been as complex and controversial as those in the Klamath River basin. As representatives for national, regional, state and local conservation, environmental, and commercial fishing organizations, we participated in the lengthy negotiations of the recently proposed Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and the previously released Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). We also participated in the many years of the underlying Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing of PacifiCorp's Klamath hydroelectric dams. Occasionally, unique opportunities emerge to resolve long-standing conflict. After completing our review and doing scientific homework while listening to voices pro and con, we believe that the KHSA and the KBRA represent one such opportunity.

This will be the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the history of the United States. It is a complex basin geographically, socially, and politically. We understand that others in the broader environmental community may oppose the KHSA or the KBRA. We do not take the criticisms of colleagues lightly. We too wish that the dams were coming down sooner. We acknowledge the drive to secure more and more water for fish. But, we seek durable and lasting solutions, and that necessarily requires working with the many parties and interests in the basin who hold different views.

Together, our groups have more experience than any other non-governmental organizations in FERC dam removals. The KHSA is the best chance for dam removal. Litigation in the relicensing process to compel dam removal would almost certainly take at least twenty years to conclude. Litigation would be enormously expensive for all participants. The outcome is, by definition, uncertain.

The KHSA provides that 2020 is the target date for facilities removal. The target date for dam removal is carefully determined to meet several requirements, including: the necessity of raising funds from ratepayers at a reasonable rate; the need for the Secretary of the Interior to confirm that dam removal will help restore fisheries and be in the public interest; compliance with the law to conclude environmental review before undertaking a major project such as this; acquisition of necessary permits; and, the need to identify sources of replacement power, including renewable energy portfolio obligations. These considerations are necessary and prudent public policy. The measures to protect fish pending removal of the dams are the product of careful analysis by a team of fisheries scientists.

Dam removal alone, however, will not fix this river and bring the salmon back. We also need improved streamflow and state and federal investment in broad-scale restoration from the sea to the headwaters. That is why we also believe the KBRA is worth supporting. The KBRA will dramatically change management of the river giving more ability to Tribes and groups like ours to make the decisions on timing of flows and other restoration plans than leaving those responsibilities solely to government agencies. Further, the combination of the dam removal and the basin restoration agreements addresses habitat and other resource issues in a complete way (instead of focusing on dam removal alone). This provides greater assurance that fisheries restoration will succeed.

We will continue to debate and engage in a civil and respectful manner with all who raise questions. We would be surprised if there were not so many passionate and diverse opinions about the Klamath, because it is such a special place worth caring about. But, the next step in this decades-old effort to make the Klamath passable to salmon should not be a return to the status quo. We simply do not see how the activities that need to be accomplished for the natural resources can be realistically achieved if success is defined as beating the “other side.” We reject alternatives that would result in yet again every major faction in the basin returning to war with each other over the minimum necessary to preserve their courtroom positions.

We are pleased to be working with a coalition that includes the states of California and Oregon, the Department of the Interior, the National Marine Fisheries Service, PacifiCorp, Tribes, commercial fishermen, conservation groups, local government, other federal agencies, and farmers and ranchers. It hasn't been easy by any stretch. But, the simple fact is, like it or not, we are all in this together.

Make no mistake: restoring this river will not be easy. There is more work ahead of us than behind. But, now is the time to try. These agreements represent the first, best, and only opportunity on the table to do it collectively with this many diverse interests in a way that brings back salmon to places they haven't been in almost 100 years while ensuring livable and sustainable communities from the Pacific Ocean to the headwaters. Let's give this change a chance on the Klamath, because it is the right thing to do.

Charlton H. Bonham, California Director, Trout Unlimited; Steve Rothert, California Director, American Rivers; Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations; Brian Barr, Habitat Restoration Project Manager, National Center for Conservation Science & Policy; Curtis Knight, Deputy Conservation Director, California Trout; Mark Rockwell, Vice President Conservation, Board Member; Northern California Council Federation FlyFishers; Petey Brucker, President, Salmon River Restoration Council.