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Klamath dam removal uncertain

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Articles - November 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011


By Linda Baker


The hydro settlement agreement calls for PacifiCorp to remove four Klamath dams in 2020. Stakeholders are still waiting to move forward on projects connected to the agreements. 
// Photo by Robert French

When the Klamath Restoration Agreements were signed in February 2010, the documents were hailed as a historic solution to decades of conflicts over water rights and environmental management in the Klamath Basin. Almost two years later, many stakeholders are still waiting to move forward with projects connected to the agreements, which include both the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. At issue is whether legislators will authorize the agreements and allocate the $500 million for implementation.

“We are coming forward at a very difficult political moment,” says James Honey, program director with Sustainable Northwest, a Portland nonprofit that helped facilitate the agreements. Signed by more than 40 groups, including irrigators, tribes, fishermen, conservation groups, and state and local governments, the Klamath agreements underscore the power of collaboration to overcome entrenched conflict, Honey says. But today budget deficits and “political mudslinging over dam removal” could derail all that. “It’s all in Congress’ hands at this point,” he says.

Under the terms of the hydro settlement agreement, PacifiCorp’s four Klamath dams would be removed in 2020. The utility “is already implementing large portions of the agreement,” including imposing surcharges on Oregon ratepayers to help pay for the removal and “exchanging engineering drawings with the feds,” says spokesman Bob Gravely. “But this all hinges on the political side and the ability to secure funding.”

The political lines were drawn this fall, starting with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s release of a much anticipated Environmental Impact Statement, which showed that removal of the dams would provide significant economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits. Specifically, the report cited the creation of  1,400 new jobs and additional water for the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. It also pegged the cost of dam removal at $290 million — down from the $450 million originally predicted.

Despite the findings, key U.S. congressional representatives immediately went on the record against dam removal, which cannot move forward until Congress authorizes both the hydroelectric and restoration agreements. For example, Sen. Tom McClintock (R-California), who last winter lobbied successfully to reduce funding for Klamath dam studies, opposes removal on the grounds that the U.S. is facing skyrocketing energy prices and that the Klamath facilities are a cheap and abundant power source.

Another hurdle is the estimated $100 million that cash-strapped California will have to pay for its share of the dam removal costs.

Until Congress takes action on the agreements, other projects are also in a holding pattern. “Parties are doing what they can with what they have,” says Honey, citing as examples fisheries restoration planning and analyses on the part of the Klamath Irrigation Project to figure out “how to keep farmers farming with decreased water in the future” — one of the Klamath agreement directives.

Had the settlement agreements been in place during the 2010 Klamath drought, “we wouldn’t have had the economic disaster we did,” says Tara Jane Campbell Miranda, policy coordinator for the Klamath Water Users Association. Under the Klamath agreements, local farmers would have received 385,000 acre-feet of water last year, with an obligation to deliver 45,000 acre-feet to the wildlife refuges, Miranda said. Instead, farmers only received 185,000 acre-feet of water, forcing the federal government to dole out $9.5 million in aid.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is supposed to make a final determination on dam removal in March 2012, but that decision requires legislation to be in place first. And although Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) has crafted draft legislation, it is unclear when it will be introduced — or whether it will pass. The stakes are high, Klamath signatories agree. Says Miranda: “Until legislation is implemented, we won’t have water certainty in the basin.”



Felice Pace
0 #1 Sustainable NW is out of touch with conditions in the Klamath River BasinFelice Pace 2011-11-01 09:38:43
The reason the Klamath Dam and Water Deals are in trouble is not just right wing members of Congress.

Many of us who live in the Basin and who have worked for worked for decades to get the dams out and restore the Klamath River also oppose these agreements because - if endorsed by Congress and implemented - they will preclude restoration of the Klamath River and the recovery of Klamath Salmon.

Furthermore, the KBRA keeps the Klamath's national wildlife refuges under the thumb of federal irrigators and last in line for water.

Sustainable Northwest is either misinformed or is intentionally misrepresenting these deals. For example, SN says that pampered federal irrigators will have "decreased water in the future" under these deals. That is flat out false. Under the KBRA Water Deal the Klamath Project (the Bureau of reclamation and their pampered irrigators) will get first call on more water than they have received in most years over the last decade.

The article also misstates who has endorsed and signed the agreement. Neither the federal government nor the states of California and Oregon has signed. That's because they can't sign without violating the law; they need Congress to endorse the deals before they can sign them.

One thing is stated correctly: These deals are going to have a very hard time getting through Congress. More importantly, deals that favor some irrigators over other irrigators, some tribes over other tribes and some environmental interests over other environmental interests can not bring an end to conflict on the Klamath.

The sooner these deals crash and burn the sooner we get back to FERC where dam removal will proceed unencumbered by a costly, controversial and divisive water deal.

Sustainable Northwest - a city group living on grants and spouting platitudes - has no business in our Basin.
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0 #2 millions down the drainkbirrigator 2011-11-01 16:51:13
These so called "stakeholders" continue to spend millions of our tax dollars on a dead horse, called the KBRA and KHSA. They keep spending unallocated money hoping some will stay in because so much money and effort has been spent. Just because millions have been spent does not mean this mess is workable. In fact, the farther along they push this disaster in the making it is becoming more and more obvious how ill concieved it really is. In 2010, the irrigators did receive less water from Klamath Lake. What they do not want you to know is that if you add all the ground water that was pumped, they actually had near full deliveries. And many were paid to do this groundwater pumping which is not even close to being sustainable. Many were also paid for not receiving their water from Klamath Lake.
The Department of Interior Report is so full of false information, it needs to be filed under FICTION in the local library.
Felice Pace is indeed correct, Sustainable Northwest needs to go back home to Portland and stay out of the Klamath Basin. This group has spent somewhere near $1.5 million to destroy the dams and to permanately down size irrigated agriculture.
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James Honey - Sustainable Northwest
0 #3 Progress Over Polemic in the KlamathJames Honey - Sustainable Northwest 2011-11-01 17:05:03
Sustainable Northwest has elected to support both a process and an outcome that has been largely driven by local players – leaders in tribal and ag community in particular – but also conservation groups, commercial fishing interests, two states, two Administrations (Bush and Obama), the findings of two Public Utility Commissions, etc. As Mr. Pace points out, there are those who think other options are better – for example, returning to uncertain and expensive litigation around dam relicensing, or returning to uncertain, divisive and expensive litigation around water use. We not only believe that it is far more likely that important restoration goals will be achieved through a cooperative process, but that this process should take into account important economic issues such as an appropriate future for Upper Basin agriculture and the rural communities it supports.

There is not a 100% consensus on how the Basin should move forward, but there is a reliable past record that indicates that staying in “status quo” (uncertainty over dam relicensing outcomes, uncertainty over flows for fish or farming, management decisions where conditions for endangered salmon compete with conditions for endangered suckers, complete absence of any level of local agreement, etc.) is untenable. It contributes to water shutoffs and fish kills.

Until a better plan is put forward – by a broad and wide diversity of interests - that moves significantly toward comprehensive river restoration, and more certainty for natural resource economies (whether tribal, commercial fishing, or agriculture), we can’t in good conscience do anything but support the process. We remain pleased to contribute to an approach that works hard at integrating competing uses of the river.

We would also encourage interested readers to address disputed issues of fact - several are raised by Mr. Pace in his comments - through several good web resources:

klamathrestoration.gov (in-depth information regarding Federal government's evaluation of potential dam removal)

klamathrestoration.org (website maintained by several Basin tribes; especially pertinent around views of water and restoration activity)

An independent publication on the Klamath River and the Agreements, put together by the non-partisan Water Education Foundation: http://www.watereducation.org/store/itemdetail.asp?id=567
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