New Klamath bill would cut out dam removal

Lauren Steinheimer

After years of negotiations, supporters of a set of agreements regarding the Klamath Basin dams are eagerly awaiting word from congress to determine if all that work will be put into action.

“It’s a really intense time right now,” said CalTrout Executive Director Curtis Knight, “because if congress doesn’t put through legislation that implements the settlement agreements, then they’re most likely going to fade away.”

A set of three agreements: the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, and Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement were drafted over the past five years to bring peace among various stakeholders in the Klamath Basin, including tribes, farmers, environmental and fisheries groups.

The KHSA, first introduced in 2010 and set to expire at the end of this year, includes a plan for removing the four PacifiCorp dams in the Klamath Basin. The 2010 KBRA addresses flow balancing and community-related issues involving tribes and irrigators. The UKBCA, signed in 2014, is a third settlement agreement between Klamath tribes and ranchers.

A draft bill introduced by Oregon Congressman Greg Walden on Dec. 3 of this year has some on edge wondering what will become of the years of negotiation.

Walden’s bill, according to a press release from Klamath Riverkeeper Executive Director Konrad Fisher, “fails to include Klamath dam removal and threatens to unravel the relative peace that has been present between tribes, water users and fish advocates in the Basin.”

Walden’s bill is still a draft and has yet to be introduced to the House of Representatives. The full draft can be found at: https://walden.house.gov/sites/walden.house.gov/files/Klamath_Full_Text_Draft.pdf.

“Throughout the year, I’ve worked closely with a broad range of stakeholders in the Klamath Basin as well as my colleagues in Congress to draft a viable plan that would help the Basin and the people who live there,” Walden stated in a recent press release. “This draft proposal would help provide water and power certainty for agriculture and boost economic development and job creation for rural communities and tribes through a transfer of federal timber lands.”

In an interview, Fisher said Walden’s draft differs from a Klamath Basin Senate bill in two significant ways. It excludes the removal of the dams and includes the transfer of 100,000 acres of federal land to Siskiyou and Klamath counties.

“A land transfer of that size is unprecedented,” Fisher said.

According to Walden’s press release, the land transfer would be intended to boost local economies through timber harvest, as well as reduce tree density and fire hazard.

Settlement parties were upset by Walden’s draft, according to Knight. “The senate bill is the one that would implement the agreements. It takes the terms and conditions agreed upon into consideration and doesn’t upset the balance,” he said. Knight noted the interesting timing of a 100,000-acre land transfer, “thrown in weeks before the agreement is set to expire.”

“The best case scenario here is that congress would adopt the Senate bill that includes all the agreements,” Knight said. “Worst case is, they do nothing and the agreements dissolve. Their inaction over the past few years has brought us to the edge of the cliff, and letting the agreements fade away would return us back to the Klamath Basin of ten years ago.”

“We strongly urge the Senators and Members of Congress who represent the Klamath Basin to roll up their sleeves and finalize legislation that achieves the goals of the parties to the settlement,” states a press release from Klamath Settlement supporters. “With the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement poised to expire at the end of this month, there is no time to waste.”

Knight said the license on the dams expired in 2006 and they’ve been operating on an annual license through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. If congress doesn’t take action, the annual FERC relicensing process is set to continue. “A lot of negotiation between 2006 and 2010 resulted in these agreements,” he said.

Knight and Fisher said the dams are out of compliance with the California Water Act and it would be far more cost effective to remove them than to make upgrades. “There will be a lot of big hurdles to climb over to get the dams relicensed,” Knight said.

Negative effects of the Klamath Basin dams, according to Knight and Fisher, include blocking over 250 miles of salmon spawning habitat, introduction of toxic algae blooms that prohibit swimming in the river during summer months, and uncertain access to water for irrigators. Knight said there’s an estimated increase of 80% in the salmon population if the dams are removed.

“Irrigators in Siskiyou and Modoc counties are directly affected by this,” said Knight, “and for the most part have been largely supportive of the settlement agreements.”

He said several tribes are supportive as well, including the Karuk and Klamath. The Hoopa are opposed to the settlement agreements because they believe there’s a quicker path to dam removal.

The State Water Resources Control Board posted a notice of preparation of an EIR for the Klamath dam relicensing process. The comment period is open until Jan. 29, 2016.

Written comments can be mailed to: State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights, Water Quality Certification Program, Attn: Mr. Parker Thaler, P.O. Box 2000, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000.

For more information on the Klamath Basin Agreements, visit http://caltrout.org/ and www.klamathriver.org/.