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.”