Klamath dam removal on hold

Mar 23, 2012

One month short of the March 31 decision deadline, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced he will postpone the Klamath dam removal.

With no authorization from Congress, Salazar said that he won’t be able to make this month’s deadline for deciding whether to remove four dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California that some believe will help salmon recovery and provide a better water balance between fish and farms.

The Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, one of the two main stakeholder settlement agreements outlining the steps and requirements for dam removal, stipulates that Salazar review all relevant scientific and economic data to determine if dam removal will advance restoration of Klamath salmon and be in the public’s best interest.

A bill authorizing Salazar to make the decision, as well as spend $800 million on environmental restoration, was introduced last year in both the House and Senate, but has not received a committee hearing. Salazar’s final decision was contingent upon the legislation.

A press release issued by the Department of the Interior (DOI) stated Salazar’s staff will be meeting with parties to the dam removal agreements in order to determine the “next steps,” and though a determination will not be made by March 31, the final studies and environmental analysis will still be released this spring.

The removal of the dams, slated to begin in 2020, stems from an agreement signed in the Oregon Capitol two years ago to end a century of fighting over water in the Klamath Basin.

Besides laying out terms for removing the dams, which provide power for 70,000 customers of the utility Pacifi-Corp, the agreements lay out how water will be shared between irrigators and fish.

A group of dam removal advocates issued a press release in response to DOI’s announcement.

“Agriculture is a business and we can’t operate effectively without clear and more predictable water deliveries,” Klamath Water Users Association Director Greg Addington said in a statement.

“It is in no way the end of the road for us,” said Craig Tucker, Klamath campaign director for the Karuk Tribe. “It’s a bump in the road for us. The need for these agreements is underscored by the looming droughts we are facing this year.”

“Folks here in the basin decided that we couldn’t wait on Washington to solve our problems, so we got together and worked out our own solutions,” Humboldt County commercial fisherman Dave Bitts said in the release. “Now Congress is dragging its feet while both farmers and fishermen face the risk of bankruptcy.”

“If the agreements were in place today, farmers and fishermen would be in a better position to survive the upcoming drought,” the release said.

But on the other side of the argument, advocates for the dams remaining are optimistic.

In a ballot initiative in November 2010, more than 79 percent of the county citizens voted the dams should be saved and continue providing electricity.

Siskiyou County was left out of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement secretly-held meetings and the county was not allowed to be a stakeholder, even though three of the four dams are located in Siskiyou County.

Siskiyou County Water Users Association and the County of Siskiyou have insisted for months that DOI has violated federal law requiring that the department coordinate the dam removal decision with the county, and seek consistency with county ordinances and policies that do not support dam destruction.

Adding to the pressure has been Copco Volunteer Fire District and Sheriff Jon Lopey, working with the Siskiyou Water Users, which has held four coordination meetings with DOI, other federal agencies and California Department of Fish and Game demanding consistency with local district and county policy regarding dam removal. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor