Undeterred by Congressional Inaction, Parties Move Forward with Dam Removal Plan
Published February 2, 2016
WASHINGTON – On Tuesday, February 1, 2016, in Washington, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell joined representatives from California, Oregon, and Portland based Pacific Power to sign an Agreement in Principle (AIP) outlining plans to remove the lower four Klamath River Dams. The move comes a month after Congressional inaction threatened to derail a package of restoration agreements brokered by Klamath Basin communities in 2010.
“Removal of the lower four Klamath River Dams would be the single greatest salmon restoration action in US history,” says Leaf Hillman, an enrolled Karuk tribal member and Director of the Karuk Department of Natural Resources. Hillman, the Karuk Tribe, and many other groups have fought for years to remove the dams that many see as a death sentence for what was once one of the world’s most prolific salmon runs.
Klamath River Tribes, irrigation districts, conservation groups, California, Oregon, and Pacific Power proposed a broader series of agreements to Congress that would have removed dams, balanced water use, and funded water conservation and habitat restoration activities along the length of the Klamath River. Republican leaders in the House Natural Resources Committee rejected the proposal agreements and thereby killed the settlement package in December. The AIP resurrects the dam removal part of that package.
“We hoped to implement a more ambitious plan to resolve Klamath water disputes between fishing and farming communities but Congressional Republicans blocked our efforts. This Agreement in Principle lays out a strategy that does not require congressional approval or any federal funding,” said Hillman.
Already dam removal advocates have passed legislation in Oregon allowing Pacific Power to collect $200 million from ratepayers to put towards dam removal by 2020. The Oregon and California Public Utility Commissions have ruled that a $200 million rate payer contribution towards dam removal is far cheaper than the costs associated with relicensing the dams which would require construction of fish ladders and other mitigation measures. In addition, California is poised to contribute $250 million from the voter approved water bond.
While there are still plenty of details to work out, dam removal advocates are cautiously optimistic. The AIP calls for dam removal in 2020, same as the original agreement signed in 2010. Still, the Karuk Tribe’s enthusiasm is tempered by threats of lawsuits and opposition by local dam supporters. “The Agreement in Principle is basically an engagement ring; we won’t celebrate until the wedding,” concludes Karuk Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery.