The early news this year looked good for advocates of dam removal on the Klamath River. In January the state released its draft "Secretarial Determination Overview Report," which made it look likely that the federal government would green-light the landmark Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.
Just a month later, however, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that with Republicans in Congress blocking authorization of the deal -- along with $800 million in environmental restoration funds -- he wouldn't be able to sign off by the target date of March 31. Here at the end of 2012, the deal remains stalled in Congress.
Ever since the historic Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement was reached in 2008, the plan for removing four fish-killing hydroelectric dams on the river has felt fragile -- a tenuous accord between conservationists, tribes, farmers and fishermen, each of whom hold different priorities for the treasured watershed. But when dam owners PacifiCorp signed on in 2009, agreeing to tear down the dams by 2020, it looked like a peaceful resolution to nearly 100 years of water conflicts was finally in the works. The agreement, which involves more than two dozen stakeholders, is designed to restore and sustain fish populations while providing reliable water supplies for agriculture and the surrounding communities.
With the agreement now in limbo, the stakeholders have held firm, insisting that the delay in Congress hasn't shaken their resolve to see the dams gone by 2020. PacifiCorp continues to collect millions of dollars in removal costs from the 70,000 of its customers who get power from the dams.
But in May the Hoopa Valley Tribe asked the feds to step in and essentially start from scratch. While the tribe supports dam removal, it has never signed on to the current settlement agreement, arguing that it infringes on tribal water rights and doesn't comply with the Clean Water Act.
Calling the agreement "stranded," Hoopa Valley Tribe attorney Tom Schlosser argued that only the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could move things along. How? By strong-arming PacifiCorp into either removing the dams immediately or renovating them to meet current environmental regulations (which would likely be more expensive than removing them and thus achieve the same goal -- or so the argument goes).
Whether the deal truly is stranded or simply in a holding pattern remains to be seen. Stakeholders want to give Congress more time to ratify the deal. In the meantime, PacifiCorp, which is owned by mega-billionaire Warren Buffet, continues to operate the dams, with a federal relicensing review on hold for now.