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Klamath Dams to Come Down

March 21, 2016
by Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair

For many years one of Redwood Chapter’s top priorities has been the removal of four geriatric hydroelectric dams that are impeding fish passage and impairing water quality on the Klamath River, while sedimentation has reduced their capacity for electric generation.  Retrofitting the dams to provide fish passage for salmon, steelhead and other fish as required by re-licensing authorization would be prohibitively expensive, making removal a more viable alternative for the customers and stockholders of dam owner PacifiCorp.

In 2009, a stakeholder process (in which the Sierra Club did not participate) resulted in the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) by which dam removal was linked to upstream water rights allocations and other considerations. Members of the California and Oregon Congressional delegation then introduced legislation to implement the agreements, but after several years of Congressional inaction they expired at the end of 2015.

Now we are delighted to be able to announce that dam removal seems to be back on track. Early in February the state of California, PacifiCorp and the federal government announced an agreement-in-principle to move forward with an amended version of the KHSA through the administrative process governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), using existing funding and on the same timeline.

Once removal is approved through FERC’s established processes (which include public comment) PacifiCorp would transfer title of the Klamath River dams to a non-federal entity that would assume liability and take the appropriate steps to decommission and remove the dams in 2020.

“This agreement marks an unprecedented coming together of parties to seek solutions to difficult problems,” said California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird. “California is committed to the implementation of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and to continued efforts to achieve a broad settlement of the issues that have plagued the Klamath Basin. This is an important first step toward both of those goals.”

The Klamath isn’t running wild and free quite yet– but for the first time in years a degree of guarded optimism seems well justified.