A new plan that could lead to the removal of dams on the Klamath River was announced Tuesday, Feb. 2.

The Agreement in Principle signed by United States Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell amends the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and will allow for dam removal without congressional support, according to Craig Tucker, Natural Resources Policy Advocate for the Karuk Tribe.

“The move comes a month after congressional inaction threatened to derail a package of restoration agreements brokered by Klamath Basin communities in 2010,” according to a press release.

Non-profit fish and watershed advocacy group California Trout, one of the original parties to the KHSA, released a statement hailing the new action.

Tucker said in an interview that the Prop 1 water bond approved by California voters includes $250 million for dam removal. An additional $200 million is available from PacifiCorp rate payers.

“While there are still plenty of details to work out, dam removal advocates are cautiously optimistic,” the release states.

Tucker said if the agreement goes through, the current FERC process that triggered a series of public scoping meetings last week will stop.

As was clear during last week’s scoping meeting in Yreka, many Siskiyou County residents do not want the dams removed.

In a release last week announcing his bid for a second term as Siskiyou County’s District 1 supervisor, Brandon Criss pointed to “strong moves” that had been made in the effort to save the Klamath dams.

He said he believes removing the dams would be harmful to both county residents and the environment, and he urged those who want to keep the dams in place to “remain vigilant with both the state and federal governments.”

In California Trout’s statement in support of the new Agreement in Principle, Executive Director Curtis Knight said, “Dam removal is an essential first step, but certainly not the only step, in this process. California Trout remains committed to the comprehensive vision behind the hard-won Klamath Agreements, which identified a balanced approach to water use, environmental restoration and community sustainability throughout the basin. ”

Scoping meeting in Yreka

A crowd of Siskiyou County citizens showed up to voice their opinions during the public scoping meeting focused on the future of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project Tuesday of last week in Yreka.

Although several options are being considered, the hot topic of the meeting was potential removal of four of the dams included in the KHP: Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2 in California and J.C. Boyle in Oregon.

In contrast to similar meetings held in Sacramento, Arcata and Orleans earlier in the week, the crowd in Yreka expressed a majority support for maintaining the dams included in the KHP as they are.

Background/status

The Klamath Hydroelectric Project, owned by PacifiCorp, is undergoing relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Facilitated by the State Water Resources Control Board in an effort to collect public input for the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report on the project, the meetings signaled re-initiation of a process that was put on hold for some time.

A series of three Klamath Settlement Agreements completed by various Klamath Basin stakeholders, including tribes, environmentalists and ranchers, went before Congress in December without approval.

The Klamath Settlement Agreements include: Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, and Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.

Collectively, they provide a framework for removal of the four dams, address water supply and allocation issues, and undertake substantial water quality improvements in the Upper Klamath Basin, according to the notice of preparation released by the water board.

Had Congress adopted the settlement agreements, the FERC relicensing process would have stopped and authority to remove the dams would have gone to the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior.

Bob Gravely of PacifiCorp said, “We wouldn’t declare it a failure yet. Congress adjourned for the year without acting and we certainly are not optimistic about them picking it up again in an election year. It’s caused us to look for alternatives to congressional inaction.”

The FERC relicensing process has been going on for nearly a decade, but was put on pause while the settlement agreements were drafted and presented to Congress.

“We’re talking with the KHSA settlement partners to see if there are ways to move the responsibility of dam removal from Congress to the FERC process,” Gravely said. “But if the settlements are enacted, the FERC process will stop.”

In the process of Congressional inaction, the KBRA expired.

“I think all parties are hopeful that there’s a way to resuscitate that because the best outcome here is a comprehensive solution like the settlements we agreed on,” Gravely said of the KBRA.

PacifiCorp fees

Gravely said PacifiCorp wants to see the KHSA put into action, including the safe removal of the four dams with the series of negotiated protections.

Because of that position, the surcharges for dam removal continue to appear on customers’ power bills.

“We still have a valid agreement and our intention is to pursue that agreement,” Gravely said. “Until that changes, the surcharges will stay in place.”

Dam disagreement

The removal of the four dams is only one of the options being considered by the State Water Board. Other possibilities include bringing the dams into environmental compliance by installing oxygenators and routes for safe fish passage.

The majority of the audience at the Yreka scoping meeting spoke in favor of keeping the dams, with reasons ranging from irrigation security for the agriculture community to security against wildfires.

Many referred to the dams as a proven benefit to the area and claimed they make the water cleaner.

John Livingston of Redding said the current sediment analysis was fairly weak and asked for a stronger one.

Siskiyou County Supervisors Grace Bennett and Brandon Criss spoke in support of keeping the dams.

Bennett claimed the water from Oregon is dirty, and gets cleaner by passing through the dams.

Criss recalled an evening in August 2014, when he witnessed helicopters extracting loads of water from Copco Reservoir to squelch a rapidly spreading fire.

“The water behind the dam was used to save homes and lives. When you consider this issue, we demand that public health and safety be given priority. Do not take away this fire protection tool that the Dams provide,” Criss said.

In an interview, Supervisor Ed Valenzuela said, “The dams are owned by PacifiCorp and on private property, I think they’re in the best position to decide what to do with them.”

“All four dams that would be removed if this agreement goes through are operated for hydroelectric generation,” Gravely said in response to a question about their influence on irrigation and fire suppression.

“There are two dams in Oregon that influence northern California irrigation, Link River and Keno,” he said. “The dams to be removed do have storage capacity, but they don’t operate for the purpose of irrigation, flood control, or fighting fires.”

Regina Chichizola spoke in Yreka on behalf of the population that depends on Klamath River fishing to support their livlihood.

“The fisheries are feeling a huge impact from these dams,” she said. “The people living on the river are hardworking people just like you who want to preserve their way of life, just like you do.”

In an interview, Curtis Knight of California Trout said the dams block over 250 miles of salmon spawning habitat in the basin, and estimated an 80% increase in fish abundance if they’re removed.

Felice Pace of the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter cited research by Jerri Bartholomew at Oregon State University, claiming, “during this last drought period, up to 40% of the juvenile fish were infected with one, or sometimes two diseases. Scientists agree the diseases are related to water temperatures.”

Pace explained that the frequent recycling of the water running through the KHP caused it to become polluted and rise in temperature.