New Deal Brokered to Remove Klamath Dams

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Irongate Dam on the upper Klamath River is one of four hydroelectric dams now slated to be removed in 2023. - THOMAS DUNKLIN
  • Thomas Dunklin
  • Irongate Dam on the upper Klamath River is one of four hydroelectric dams now slated to be removed in 2023.
Once again, a hard-fought accord to remove four hydroelectric dams choking the lower Klamath River has been resuscitated, a group of stakeholders announced in a press conference Tuesday.

The agreement, which is more than a decade in the making and would result in one of the largest dam removal efforts in the world and the largest river restoration project in U.S. history, is back on after stakeholders were able to coax the dams’ owner — the Berkshire Hathaway owned PacifiCorp Power — back into the agreement after a federal agency’s ruling in July left the company threatening to walk away.

“I recognize the importance of Klamath dam removal and river restoration for tribal people in the Klamath Basin,” Berkshire Hathaway Chair Warren Buffett said in a press release. “We appreciate and respect our tribal partners for their collaboration in forging an agreement that delivers an exceptional outcome for the river, as well as future generations. Working together from this historic moment, we can complete the project and remove these dams.”

The agreement announced today comes after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled in July that PacifiCorp could not simply hand off the dams to a nonprofit created to remove them, thus avoiding any potential liability should something go wrong or removal prove more expensive than projected, removing one of the company’s key incentives for reaching the original accord with a diverse group of stakeholders. The ruling required PacifiCorp to remain a co-licensee of the dams throughout the removal process, which the company feared would expose it and its ratepayers to liability.

In the agreement announced today, the states of Oregon and California will sign on as co-licensees for the dams with the nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation, with the two states and PacifiCorp agreeing to share costs equally should they overrun the contingency funds already set aside for the project.

While the deal will still need to go before FERC for approval, the parties are hopeful dam removal could take place in 2023.

The agreement renews the hope of a 2016 accord — itself a resuscitation of a 2010 pact that required congressional approval that never came — reached between the Karuk and Yurok tribes, the states of Oregon and California, a variety of environmental groups and the power company. It also comes as conditions on the river continue to deteriorate, with low water flows and toxic algal blooms imperiling already beleaguered fish populations.

“We are taking an incredibly important step forward on the path toward restorative justice for the people of the Klamath basin and toward restoring the health of the Klamath River, as well as that of everyone who depends on it,” said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown at this afternoon’s virtual press conference.

Yurok Tribal Chair Joseph James appeared emotional at moments during the press conference, talking about what the river means to his people, their ways of life and all the hard work that has gone into these agreements. He particularly thanked Troy Fletcher, the tribe’s late longtime executive director who was instrumental in bringing a very diverse and divergent group of stakeholders together to reach the original 2010 agreement, saying, "He’s here with me today."

James said he’s hopeful the Yurok ways of life will thrive when the health of the river is restored.

“We’re prayer people,” he said. “We’re traditional people. We’re a natural resources tribe. It is our duty and oath to bring balance to the river.”

Karuk Tribal Chair Buster Attebery, in his third term heading the tribe, said his worst day in the role was a handful of years ago when he had to announce the closure of salmon fishing on the Klamath due to dire fish counts, meaning there would be no harvests “available for our tribal members, our children, our elders.” He continued that he’s looking forward to his best day on the job being when he can announce those fish populations have been restored on an undamed river.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy Chair Greg Abel, whose very presence at the press conference was notable, said it was an honor to be there for the important milestone, which underscored his company’s commitment to “economic, social and racial justice.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom gave a nod to all those who have worked hard to push the agreement forward, including his predecessors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

“God’s delays are not God’s denials,” he said. “We are finally one step closer at this remarkable moment in our collective history.”

One step closer, however, still leaves a lot of work yet to be done, as multiple speakers noted.

“It’s been a long road,” James said. “We still have a long road to go.”

Copied below, find press releases from the state of California, North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman and the Karuk Tribe, and read the new Memorandum of Agreement here.


Governor Newsom, Oregon Governor Brown, Tribal Leaders and Klamath Dam Owner Announce Agreement to Advance Historic Salmon Restoration Plan
Partners “all in” for dam removal

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom today joined with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, leaders of the Yurok and Karuk Tribes and Berkshire Hathaway-owned PacifiCorp in announcing an agreement to provide additional resources and support to advance the most ambitious salmon restoration effort in history. The project, when completed, will address declines in fish populations, improve river health and renew Tribal communities and cultures.

The Memorandum of Agreement signed by the states of California and Oregon, the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe, PacifiCorp and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) describes how the parties will implement the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) as negotiated and signed in 2016. The KHSA sets the terms for the removal of four Klamath River dams.

“The Klamath River is a centerpiece of tribal community, culture and sustenance and a national ecological treasure,” Governor Newsom said. “With this agreement, we are closer than ever to restoring access to 400 miles of salmon habitat which will be a boon to the local economy. I am grateful for the partnership between California and Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes and Berkshire Hathaway that proves when we work together, we can build a better, more inclusive future for all.”

With the Memorandum of Agreement, the parties:

• Jointly ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to remove PacifiCorp from the license for the project and add California, Oregon and KRRC as co-licensees for carrying out dam removal. Adding the states as co-licensees provides assurances that the project will have sufficient financial backing while honoring settlement terms that stipulate PacifiCorp would not be a co-licensee for removal.
• Demonstrate their firm commitment to dam removal.
• Agree to nearly double available contingency funds held by KRRC and contractors and, in the unlikely event that additional funds are needed beyond that, Oregon, California and PacifiCorp will share the costs equally to address FERC’s requirement to ensure full funding for the project.
• Confirm that the KRRC will remain the dam removal entity for the project.
• Plan to navigate the final regulatory approvals necessary to allow the project to begin in 2022 with dam removal in 2023. Site remediation and restoration will continue beyond 2023.
• Retain the liability protections for PacifiCorp’s customers established in the KHSA.

Taken together, these provisions are intended to resolve FERC’s concerns raised in a July 2020 order and ensure a successful dam removal project.

“This is an incredibly important step forward on the path towards restorative justice for the people of the Klamath Basin, and towards restoring health to the river as well as everyone and everything that depends on it,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said. “From time immemorial, the stewardship of the indigenous peoples of the Klamath basin have nurtured the lands, waters, fish and wildlife of this region. In Oregon, the Klamath tribes remember a time when their livelihoods were supported by clean, healthy, and vibrant waters. It is that vision, that promise, that we are working towards restoring for the generations to come.”

“I want to thank Governor Newsom and Governor Brown for their leadership in bringing everyone together to collaborate and solve a very complex challenge,” Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett said. “I recognize the importance of Klamath dam removal and river restoration for tribal people in the Klamath Basin. We appreciate and respect our tribal partners for their collaboration in forging an agreement that delivers an exceptional outcome for the river, as well as future generations. Working together from this historic moment, we can complete the project and remove these dams.”

“As Yurok tribal people, it is our sacred duty to bring balance to the Klamath River,” Yurok Tribe Chair Joseph James said. “At its heart, dam removal is about healing and restoration for the river, for the salmon, and for our people. We have never wavered from this obligation and we are pleased to see dam removal come closer to reality through this agreement. Reaching this important milestone would not be possible without the many tribal people who have dedicated their lives to restoring the river. We want to thank Berkshire Hathaway, PacifiCorp, California, Oregon, and the Karuk Tribe. Although we are excited to be moving forward again, we want to emphasize that the Yurok Tribe will never rest until the dams are out and the river is healed. From the families on the Klamath we want to thank the Buffett family for their support and leadership.”

“We deeply appreciate the efforts of Governors Newsom and Brown, the Yurok Tribe and the leadership of Berkshire Hathaway to forge a path forward on dam removal,” Karuk Tribe Chair Russell “Buster” Attebery said. “We are more confident than ever that future generations of Karuk will enjoy the benefits of a healthy Klamath River just as their ancestors did dating back to the beginning of time. Most importantly, this moment is a testament to years of devotion and hard work by the community of activists representing all Tribes on the river who have never tired of demanding justice for their communities.”

“We are deeply grateful to the parties who negotiated a path forward for this epic project to restore the Klamath River,” KRRC Chief Executive Officer Mark Bransom said. “As has been the case numerous times in the past, the signatories to the KHSA have tackled obstacles head on and found creative solutions to daunting problems. But we particularly recognize the personal involvement of Governor Newsom, Governor Brown and Berkshire Hathaway leadership who stepped in to ensure that dam removal proceeds. Once all the necessary approvals are obtained it will be full speed ahead in removing the Klamath dams and allowing salmon to access habitat that has been cut off for a century.”

Next Steps
Implementation of the amended KHSA requires two approvals by FERC. First, FERC must approve the transfer of the license for the dams from PacifiCorp to the KRRC and the states. Second, FERC must approve the dam removal plan.

Read the full Memorandum of Agreement here.

Huffman Celebrates Deal to Keep Klamath Dam Removal on Track

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) praised a new deal announced today to move forward with removal of four dams on the Klamath River and begin the largest river restoration in United States history.

The negotiated settlement between California, Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk tribes, and dam owner PacifiCorp and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway acknowledges that there is no time to wait if Klamath River salmon fisheries are to be revived for tribes and coastal communities. Following months of pressure from tribes, conservationists, and members of Congress, dam license holder PacifiCorp’s parent company Berkshire Hathaway heavily engaged in discussions aimed at ensuring the dams are removed on schedule. Under the terms of today’s deal, PacifiCorp would remain a co-licensee with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation until the dams begin to be removed, after which time the states will assume PacifiCorp’s share of the license.

“I’ve been warning for months that a failure to keep Klamath dam removal on track would not only imperil the cultural and economically vital salmon fisheries on the river, but would irreparably damage Berkshire Hathaway and PacifiCorp’s reputations,” Rep. Huffman said. “It appears that message was received, and Warren Buffet has done the right thing to work with the Yurok and Karuk tribes and the states to get it done. The states’ efforts and willingness to take this on have been nothing short of remarkable.”

Following signs in July that PacifiCorp may walk back its commitment to dam removal, Huffman, Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, held a public forum to examine the terrible impacts the dams have had on salmon and downstream water quality. In September, he successfully offered an amendment to the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, which was approved by the House, to safeguard Tribal communities against further harm to the Klamath River and its ecosystem caused by PacifiCorp’s delays.

“In the decade since dam removal discussions began in earnest, conditions on the Klamath have only deteriorated, causing real harm to the people and communities I represent,” Huffman said. “I am glad that after years of stalling, Berkshire Hathaway has taken the reins and is moving urgently to repair years of damage to the river and its people. I will continue to watch the progress closely and support these efforts toward a restored Klamath River.”


###
Governor Newsom, Oregon Governor Brown, Tribal Leaders and Klamath Dam Owner Announce Agreement to Advance Historic Salmon Restoration Plan
Published: Nov 17, 2020

Partners “all in” for dam removal

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom today joined with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, leaders of the Yurok and Karuk Tribes and Berkshire Hathaway-owned PacifiCorp in announcing an agreement to provide additional resources and support to advance the most ambitious salmon restoration effort in history. The project, when completed, will address declines in fish populations, improve river health and renew Tribal communities and cultures.

The Memorandum of Agreement signed by the states of California and Oregon, the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe, PacifiCorp and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) describes how the parties will implement the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) as negotiated and signed in 2016. The KHSA sets the terms for the removal of four Klamath River dams.

“The Klamath River is a centerpiece of tribal community, culture and sustenance and a national ecological treasure,” Governor Newsom said. “With this agreement, we are closer than ever to restoring access to 400 miles of salmon habitat which will be a boon to the local economy. I am grateful for the partnership between California and Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes and Berkshire Hathaway that proves when we work together, we can build a better, more inclusive future for all.”

With the Memorandum of Agreement, the parties:

Jointly ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to remove PacifiCorp from the license for the project and add California, Oregon and KRRC as co-licensees for carrying out dam removal. Adding the states as co-licensees provides assurances that the project will have sufficient financial backing while honoring settlement terms that stipulate PacifiCorp would not be a co-licensee for removal.
Demonstrate their firm commitment to dam removal.
Agree to nearly double available contingency funds held by KRRC and contractors and, in the unlikely event that additional funds are needed beyond that, Oregon, California and PacifiCorp will share the costs equally to address FERC’s requirement to ensure full funding for the project.
Confirm that the KRRC will remain the dam removal entity for the project.
Plan to navigate the final regulatory approvals necessary to allow the project to begin in 2022 with dam removal in 2023. Site remediation and restoration will continue beyond 2023.
Retain the liability protections for PacifiCorp’s customers established in the KHSA.
Taken together, these provisions are intended to resolve FERC’s concerns raised in a July 2020 order and ensure a successful dam removal project.

“This is an incredibly important step forward on the path towards restorative justice for the people of the Klamath Basin, and towards restoring health to the river as well as everyone and everything that depends on it,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said. “From time immemorial, the stewardship of the indigenous peoples of the Klamath basin have nurtured the lands, waters, fish and wildlife of this region. In Oregon, the Klamath tribes remember a time when their livelihoods were supported by clean, healthy, and vibrant waters. It is that vision, that promise, that we are working towards restoring for the generations to come.”

“I want to thank Governor Newsom and Governor Brown for their leadership in bringing everyone together to collaborate and solve a very complex challenge,” Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett said. “I recognize the importance of Klamath dam removal and river restoration for tribal people in the Klamath Basin. We appreciate and respect our tribal partners for their collaboration in forging an agreement that delivers an exceptional outcome for the river, as well as future generations. Working together from this historic moment, we can complete the project and remove these dams.”

“As Yurok tribal people, it is our sacred duty to bring balance to the Klamath River,” Yurok Tribe Chair Joseph James said. “At its heart, dam removal is about healing and restoration for the river, for the salmon, and for our people. We have never wavered from this obligation and we are pleased to see dam removal come closer to reality through this agreement. Reaching this important milestone would not be possible without the many tribal people who have dedicated their lives to restoring the river. We want to thank Berkshire Hathaway, PacifiCorp, California, Oregon, and the Karuk Tribe. Although we are excited to be moving forward again, we want to emphasize that the Yurok Tribe will never rest until the dams are out and the river is healed. From the families on the Klamath we want to thank the Buffett family for their support and leadership.”

“We deeply appreciate the efforts of Governors Newsom and Brown, the Yurok Tribe and the leadership of Berkshire Hathaway to forge a path forward on dam removal,” Karuk Tribe Chair Russell “Buster” Attebery said. “We are more confident than ever that future generations of Karuk will enjoy the benefits of a healthy Klamath River just as their ancestors did dating back to the beginning of time. Most importantly, this moment is a testament to years of devotion and hard work by the community of activists representing all Tribes on the river who have never tired of demanding justice for their communities.”

“We are deeply grateful to the parties who negotiated a path forward for this epic project to restore the Klamath River,” KRRC Chief Executive Officer Mark Bransom said. “As has been the case numerous times in the past, the signatories to the KHSA have tackled obstacles head on and found creative solutions to daunting problems. But we particularly recognize the personal involvement of Governor Newsom, Governor Brown and Berkshire Hathaway leadership who stepped in to ensure that dam removal proceeds. Once all the necessary approvals are obtained it will be full speed ahead in removing the Klamath dams and allowing salmon to access habitat that has been cut off for a century.”

Next Steps

Implementation of the amended KHSA requires two approvals by FERC. First, FERC must approve the transfer of the license for the dams from PacifiCorp to the KRRC and the states. Second, FERC must approve the dam removal plan.

Read the full Memorandum of Agreement here.

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