Last week’s announcement that four dams on the Klamath River might be removed by the year 2020 has, as would be expected, solicited a wide spectrum of responses. Though the “Agreement in Principle” has been heralded as a “win-win” for the many stakeholders along the river, including Klamath River tribes, farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, recreationalists, and commercial fishermen, others remain unhappy with the decision and feel their perspectives are being overlooked.
Among those who have issues with the recently announced decision are the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, who have opposed the idea since it inception. In a recent phone interview, Supervisor Jim Cook outlined many of the concerns that he feels have not been adequately addressed in the proposed agreement.
Cook outlines concerns
Cook noted, among other things, that, in his opinion, it is a misperception that the decision is widely accepted as being in the best interest of the county and expressed his concerns that there are still too many unknowns for sound decisions to be made on the issue.
“We want an honest review of all options,” Cook stated emphatically, implying that those studies have yet to be done and that there is simply not enough information to warrant dam removal as the best course of action.
Cook, who emphasized his background as a biologist, also noted that he was unclear as to the ultimate goal of the dam removal project.
“If they want more fish, there are other ways of doing it,” he said. He cited hi-tech fish ladders as an economically feasible alternative to removing the dams.  He also voiced the concern that it could be “an environmental disaster if they let that sludge down the river the way that they are proposing.”
While the program may have a “feel good” appeal for some, Cook’s other concerns range from the loss of a clean source of power generation to the substantial reduction of revenue that the county would suffer because of the deal.
“People want to feel good about the river running free, but they don’t care that it will increase global warming,” stated Cook, noting that removing a “clean” source of energy production (hydroelectric power) in an era of economic and energy uncertainty makes no sense to him.
He noted too that the four dams currently provide enough electricity to power 70,000 homes and that power could, arguably, be replaced by coal-fired electrical power generation.
Important tax revenue
Cook also stated that currently, the county receives between $750 thousand and  $1 million annually in tax revenues from the dams.  The loss of this income would be substantial for a county that ranks as one of the poorest in the state.
When queried as to whether he thought the dam removal process could generate jobs locally, the supervisor remained doubtful, citing the fact that the firms handling the job would be coming from out of the area.
“Look, we don’t even have companies that can handle the road paving in our county. They come from Redding and Alturas.”
Cook emphasized his concerns and his respect for the residents of Copco Lake and other riverside residents who stand to lose a lot if the dam removal program comes to fruition.
He noted, in particular, that he felt that their concerns were not simply “reactionary” but that they simply wanted to see the studies that support this decision as the best course of action.
“I have a lot of respect for those people,” said Cook.
Dam removal in a nutshell
The recent announcement is a collaborative plan between the federal government, the state governments of both California and Oregon and Pacific Power. With Iron Gate Dam, Copco 1 and 2, and J.C. Boyle Dam currently up for relicensing, Pacific Power is put in the position of implementing costly retrofits or pursuing the removal option.
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 re-licensing.
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.
What’s next?
Year 2020, of course, is a long way away, and there are many “ifs” in the prevailing equation. For opponents, the lengthy review process could be a boon to their cause.
When asked how the Board will proceed from here, Cook reiterated that he wanted to see more studies done.
“What is this thing going to cost and who, ultimately, will be paying for it?” Though, in theory, that question has already begun to be answered, Cook has his doubts.