Congratulations to the twenty-six negotiating parties – including tribal people, farmers, fishermen, conservation groups, state and federal governments – who recently reached an agreement to remove four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon. When the Klamath dams come down, it will be the biggest dam removal project the world has ever seen.
The Klamath River, like the Columbia-Snake, has been the subject of an intense debate over how we manage our rivers in the face of competing demands. In this case, for irrigation for farms, for the generation of electricity, and for critical habitat for salmon and other fish and wildlife, and the businesses, communities, and cultures that depend upon them.
The Klamath River area is the ancestral home for a number of tribes, including the Hoopa and Yurok, who revere salmon as a healthy, traditional food and a powerful inspiration for their community and culture. It is today also the home of a numerous endangered fish, and it was the extremely depressed adult salmon returns that triggered a multi-year fishing closure off the coast of California and Oregon several years ago. It was also the scene of political meddling by then-Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004, when too much water was allocated to farmers, leaving too little water in the river that resulted in a massive die-off of 35,000 adult salmon that perished before they reached their spawning gravels.
Years of litigation and controversy politicized science and most recently, diverse stakeholder negotiations, have led to a tentative deal that includes the removal of the Klamath River’s most lethal salmon-killing dams. While a number of critical steps remain to be taken, and despite the fact that dam removal is not expected to commence before 2020, this deal is an encouraging sign of what can occur when people sit down together to face and resolve common problems.
After nearly two decades of litigation and controversy and debate, it is time for the same type of negotiation process to resolve the salmon-energy-transportation issues in the Columbia-Snake River basin. Unfortunately, in its first opportunity to make progress for salmon and rivers and communities affected by the knot of problems in the Columbia Basin, the Obama Administration struck out. Judge Redden will be coming up to bat next. Stay tuned!