An Agreement in Principle was reached last week that could lead to the eventual removal of four dams along the Klamath River.
The nonbinding AIP?involving PacifiCorp, the Federal Government, the State of California and the State of Oregon was announced during a teleconference last Thursday, Nov. 13.
It is the initial phase of a process, which, if it follows its charted path, could see the removal of Iron Gate, Copco 1 and 2, and J.C. Boyle, beginning by the year 2020. 
The AIP provides a framework for establishing transfer of the dam from PacifiCorp to a government designated Dam Removal Entity, as well as setting up a time line for signing the final agreement. 
Feds, states, and
PacifiCorp join in
US Secretary of the Interior Dick Kempthorne, along with Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, and PacifiCorp CEO Greg Abel announced during last week’s teleconference that he was operating under a directive from President Bush “to find a collaborative solution” for the Klamath River that makes sense for PacifiCorp and doesn’t pit one interest group against another.
Kempthorne further stated that, “This is an historic announcement and the culmination of years of hard work from the numerous negotiators from the Federal Government and the states of California and Oregon, and PacifiCorp representatives, who have worked toward a common goal of how best to protect the uniqueness of this region.”
He continued, noting that, “We have agreed to a path forward that will protect fish, PacifiCorp customers and the local cultures and communities in the two-state Klamath River basin.” This comment, for many, reflects what lies at the heart of the agreement: an attempt at reconciliation between the various constituencies that utilize the numerous cultural, economic, environmental, recreational, and water resources afforded by the river and its fish.
Spirit of cooperation
At the core of the AIP is a sentiment that seeks to heal old wounds and promote a pragmatic approach to managing the river for all its users, while allowing one of the greatest salmon river systems in North America a chance at recovery.
“We can remove dams, restore the fishery, and have prosperous farm communities all in the same basin,” asserted Yurok chairperson Maria Tripp. “We are proud to see PacifiCorp joining our effort to provide long term stability to all of the Klamath Basin’s diverse communities.”
A further endorsement of the proposal was uttered by Luther Horsley of the Klamath Water Users’ Association. “PacifiCorp is making a private property rights decision,” explained Horsley. “We support this agreement as part of a larger plan to provide water and power security to local irrigators.”
Also emphasizing the surge in cooperative spirit was PacifiCorp chairman and CEO Greg Abel, who noted, “…this is exactly the type of approach PacifiCorp takes every time we sit down to the settlement table.  This flexible framework ensures that our customers will be protected at every step along the way, while remaining consistent with our strong commitment to respecting the environment. We will continue to work diligently with everyone at the table, including the irrigators, environmentalists, the tribes and all local elected officials with the goal of reaching a final dam removal agreement that is in the economic interests of PacifiCorp customers.”
History in the making?
Both California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski also spoke of the historic precedent that, if allowed to run its full course, will stand as one of the largest projects of its kind ever.
“Today’s announcement is the first step in what would be the largest dam removal project ever in history that California, Oregon and our federal and private partners are undertaking to improve water quality, water supply and fish populations in the Klamath region,” Schwarzenegger said. “The health of the Klamath River is critical to the livelihood of numerous Northern California communities, and with this groundbreaking agreement we have established a framework for restoring an important natural resource for future generations.”
A  long road to hoe  
Judging from the tone of Thursday’s announcement,  it would be easy to presume that the removal of Iron Gate, Copco 1 and 2, and J.C. Boyle dams is a “done deal.” However, closer scrutiny of the plan reveals an array factors that could see an outcome very different than the initial intended outcome of removing the four dams.   
The first goal set by negotiators is a round of talks, working towards a final dam resolution agreement. The deadline set for this is June 2009. The AIP then places the onus upon the federal government to scientifically assess the costs and benefits of the dam removals, with the federal government making a final determination by March 31, 2012 as to whether the benefits of the project will justify the costs.  This decision will stem from engineering and scientific studies conducted by state, local, and tribal governments and other stakeholders, upgrading the program to a “binding agreement.”
At that point, the federal government would then designate a non-federal dam removal entity to dismantle the dams or decline to remove the dams, at which point PacifiCorp will return to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for relicensing. If, however, all moves forward as tentatively outlined, removal of the four dams in question, three of which lie in Siskiyou County, could begin as early as 2020.
Win-win for all?
Like Schwarzenegger, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski spoke with enthusiasm about the “win-win” nature of the dam removal project, noting, like others, its historical significance. He noted that, “While many months of work lay ahead, this historic agreement provides a path forward to achieve the largest river and salmon restoration effort ever undertaken in a way that’s good for fish, PacifiCorp customers, and local communities and our sovereign tribes. With Oregon’s best interests in mind, it is with great pride that I will be taking the first step in implementing this agreement by offering legislation to support the dam decommissioning and removal process.”
Secretary Kempthorne said, “We all have those images of what happened in the Klamath… Nobody wants to see those images occur again. We were motivated to find a solution because we’ve seen how bad it can be. Nobody wanted to say, “It’s beyond our abilities to solve this.”
In a statement released by the White House, President George W. Bush said the non-binding agreement for removing four dams along the Klamath River turns “what was a conflict into a conservation success.”
Some harbor concerns
Though the current plan has united many and may, ultimately, bring peace to a region beleaguered by feuding and infighting, not all are happy.  Some lament the loss of what they see as the clean and reliable energy provided by the four dams, and others cite concerns over the possibility of flood damage that occur if and when the dams come out. 
While no solution is going to make everyone happy, it appears that the recent proposal has galvanized more support than any other to date and with that comes the promise of healing.