by Hank Sims
Negotiators representing various interest groups on the Klamath River today reached a landmark agreement with PacifiCorp, the hydropower company that owns four dams on the river. If consummated, the agreement will result in the largest dam removal project in history.
This is very big news, and we'll have much more about it in next week's issue. However, it should be noted that several environmental groups are opposing the deal, as well as an earlier agreement -- known as the "Klamath Settlement Agreement" -- that seeks to establish a new arrangement for the distribution of the basin's water.
The following is a press release from Oregon Wild, an environmental group opposing both the dam deal and the earlier settlement agreement:
Klamath Dam Deal Announced, But What's on Deck?
Dam removal still linked to settlement scheme harmful to fish and wildlife
Portland, Ore- Negotiators from Oregon, California, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the utility company PacifiCorp released a final draft today of a plan to remove four aging dams on the Klamath River. The draft dam removal deal has yet to be signed by a broader group of stakeholders, and negotiations continue on an unbalanced water settlement linked to the dam removal proposal. The combined agreements will eventually require Congressional action to go into effect.
"For years now, there has been a growing consensus that removing Klamath River dams is key to salmon recovery and overall Klamath Basin health," said Ani Kame'enui with the conservation group Oregon Wild. "Sadly, this proposal still saddles dam removal efforts with unrelated special interest giveaways."
The Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement (KHSA) anticipates dam removal to begin at an unspecified future date with a feasibility study to be conducted before a 2012 deadline. Independent analyses have already documented much of the economic and ecological rationale behind dam removal, making the added studies and delayed timeline worrisome. Furthermore, under the terms of the KHSA, PacifiCorp can continue to profit from dam operations with minimal interim conditions to fix poor water quality and aid struggling salmon.
Even more controversial is the linkage between the KHSA and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), a nearly $1 billion water deal drafted over the last six years and heavily influenced by former Bush administration officials. KBRA negotiations have proceeded in secret since a draft document was released to the public in January of 2008. The settlement scheme would guarantee water for commercial agriculture in the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Irrigation Project without providing a similar guarantee to threatened fish species. The KBRA would also lock in damaging commercial agriculture on 22,000 acres of land inside the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges.
"The dam deal announced today isn't perfect, but the true test is still to come," added Steve Pedery, conservation director with Oregon Wild and a veteran Klamath advocate. "When the water deal gets packaged with this dam deal, are river advocates going to be able to live with the fish and wildlife sacrifices made in the final settlement. We all want dam removal, but we shouldn't have to trade salmon and bald eagles for broken concrete."
Today's dam removal proposal comes nearly a year after PacifiCorp first agreed to consider the potential of breaching the dams. In the interim, negotiators missed two self-imposed deadlines to reach a final agreement. Iron Gate, Copco I, Copco II, and J.C. Boyle dams continue to operate on annual licenses with minimal interim conditions required to improve habitat for fish. The furthest downstream dam on the river, Iron Gate, was constructed in 1962 without fish passage and has blocked over 300 miles of salmon spawning habitat ever since. The decline in salmon population health on the Klamath reached its low point in 2002 when approximately 70,000 adult salmon died due to water quality and quantity issues created in part by the dams.
"The last thing that anyone wants to see is another devastating fish kill on the Klamath," concluded Kame'enui. "If the dam deal and the water deal aren't significantly changed for the better, we may not be able to avoid that fate."