Removal Plan Headed to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Approval
Published April 6, 2016
KLAMATH, CALIFORNIA — Today, the States of Oregon and California, PacifiCorp, the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe, and the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Commerce will sign an amendment to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), it will result in the removal of four dams on the Klamath River in 2020, amounting to one of the largest river restoration efforts in the nation.
The previous KHSA was tied to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). The KBRA sought to balance water use between the environment and agriculture and funded habitat restoration projects along the entire length of the river. Enacting the previous agreements required Congressional legislation which was introduced by Senators Wyden and Merkley. However, House Republicans Walden and LaMalfa killed local communities’ legislative efforts leaving the agreements to expire.
Ironically, Walden and LaMalfa refused to support the package because of dam removal. Now dam removal is moving forward while their constituents are left without water security. However, parties to the KHSA remain committed to working with agricultural communities and Congress to resolve water disputes.
“We believe that taking care of the Klamath River is the responsibility of everyone who lives in the basin,” explains Karuk Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery. “We can’t restore our fishery without working with our neighbors in agriculture and they can’t secure water for their farms without working with us. Dam removal is huge leap forward, but we must continue to work with the agriculture community to solve water conflicts as well.”
The dams being removed do not provide any irrigation diversions nor do they control flows of the river. That’s a function of how the Bureau of Reclamation manages the Klamath Irrigation Project which diverts water from Upper Klamath Lake.
Along with the KHSA Amendments, State and federal officials also signed a new, separate agreement with irrigation interests, known as the 2016 Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement (KPFA). This agreement will help Klamath Basin irrigators avoid any adverse impacts, to the extent possible, associated with the return of fish runs to the Upper Klamath Basin which are anticipated after dams are removed.
The Amended KHSA will maintain the timeline for dam removal in 2020 and use the same funding strategy as before – $200 million from PacifiCorp customers and $250 million from California’s Prop 1. It creates a new non-profit Corporation to manage the dam removal process called the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. The dam removal plan will be filed with FERC by July 1, 2016 for consideration. PacifiCorp will continue to operate the dams until they are decommissioned.
The KHSA does not suspend or alter any existing environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act or others nor does it waive, alter, or terminate any Tribal water or fishing rights.
FERC typically approves decommissioning plans when submitted by the dam owner, so parties are optimistic that dam removal will soon be a reality.
“This will be the largest salmon restoration project ever in America,” says Karuk Natural Resources Director Leaf Hillman. “It’s been a long time coming. We are more than ready to welcome the salmon home.”
This BBSNews article originally appeared on Native News Online.