No Congressional approval needed for new dam removal plan

Steve Gerace
PacifiCorp's Iron Gate Dam power generation facility.

It comes as no surprise that today’s announcement of an amended agreement for removing four dams on the Klamath River is being met with both cheers and boos.

California Governor Jerry Brown, making the announcement while standing on Yurok tribal land at the mouth of the Klamath River, said, “This historic agreement will enable Oregon and California and the interested parties to get these four dams finally removed and the Klamath River restored to its pristine beauty.”

A press release from a group of conservationists, anglers and commercial fishermen hails the revised Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement as renewing the focus “on opportunities for broad environmental and economic recovery in drought-ravaged Klamath Basin.”

From an opposite shore, north state Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) points out in a press release that the cost of removing four dams owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp,” will be “at least $250 million in taxpayer funds.”

LaMalfa laments that the “overwhelming majority of residents of the Klamath Basin, those who are actually impacted, have been cut out of this process...

“We’ve seen government agency employees openly admit to designing this process specifically to avoid Congressional oversight, create a front company in order to avoid open government laws, and force stakeholders to sign nondisclosure agreements just to learn how they’ll be impacted,” LaMalfa states in the release.

He maintains that removing the dams will do nothing to solve “the region’s water supply challenges” and “protect agriculture and electric ratepayers.”

But those involved in the new agreements foresee benefits to letting the river flow. Governor Brown and Oregon Governor Kate Brown were joined for today's announcement by representatives of state, federal and Native American tribal governments and Klamath Basin water users and businesses.

The parties to the agreement “agree to take steps to protect water and land users from potential regulatory or legal consequences of reintroducing salmon and other species that have been prevented by dams from reaching the upper Klamath Basin,” according to the Governor’s office. “Today marks the next step between the parties to provide benefits for tribes, farmers, ranchers, commercial fishing communities and many others. The parties announced these developments today and are moving forward to provide a comprehensive solution to the Klamath River's diverse communities.”

The original 2010 agreements for the largest river restoration and dam removal project in the nation involved the dams’ owner, PacifiCorp, environmentalists, farmers, fishermen and state, federal and Native American tribal governments.

Those agreements were never approved by Siskiyou County’s Board of Supervisors, and nearly 80 percent of the Siskiyou County citizens who voted on an advisory measure in November 2010 opposed dam removal.

The Congressional approval required for those original agreements never came.

But after the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement expired without Congressional approval at the end of 2015, another channel to dam removal was carved. That agreement was announced today, and it has no required Congressional approval.

“Today,” according to the Governor’s office, “California is joining others to move forward without Congress to restore the river and remove four dams – three in California and one in Oregon – through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s public process available under current law that does not require congressional involvement.”

PacifiCorp has agreed to transfer the dams to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which will take the actions necessary to decommission and remove the dams in 2020, the date previously established for removal, according to the release.

The amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement is online at:

https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/KLAMATH%20HYDROELECTRIC%20KHSA%20with%20App%204-6-16.pdf

The new Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement that deals with water sharing, water supply infrastructure, and habitat restoration is online at: 

https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/Klamath%20Power%20%26%20Facilities%20Agrmt%202016.pdf

“Those lauding today’s announcement should consider whether they’d support an administration of another party using such tactics to end-run around their elected representatives and impose policies with negative impacts on their communities,” LaMalfa stated in his press release today.

The release includes links to LaMalfa’s exchange with Assistant Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor during a recent House committee hearing about what LaMalfa sees as a “secretive planning process leading up to the agreement.”

Connor, according to LaMalfa, “refused to answer whether the proposal complied with open government laws.”

Those links are online at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zkEqkh3Shk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cqHphIhJ-E

Several statements in favor of the new agreement were included in a release sent out today by conservation and fish groups who signed on to the original agreements, including American Rivers, California Trout, the Federation of Fly Fishers, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Trout Unlimited.

“Salmon and steelhead will finally have the chance to go home after decades of blocked passage caused by these aging dams,” says California Trout Executive Director Curtis Knight in that release. “But what’s still unclear is what they will find when they get there. California Trout remains committed to working with all of the settlement parties to support both local economic activity and essential habitat restoration along streams and creeks throughout the Klamath Basin.”

Glen Spain, the NW Regional Director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said, “The four Klamath Dams slated for removal (which have no fish passage) have been disastrous for west coast salmon fisheries – and salmon-related jobs – over more than 700 miles of Northern California and Oregon coastline. Plus, the dams, some more than 100 years old, would cost far more than they would be worth to fix them up to modern standards, and so are functionally and economically obsolete. Although there are many other problems still to address in the Klamath Basin, this landmark Agreement moves the region much further along toward a major river restoration effort that will recapture thousands of lost jobs, bring greater economic stability to the region, and end nearly 100 years of bitter conflict.”