Undamming the Klamath

In the largest dam removal project in history, the federal government, three Indian Tribes and 25 other parties released a tentative agreement on September 30 providing for the removal of four Klamath River dams owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Company.

The agreement would remove Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and J.C. Boyle dams, opening up historic habitat above Iron Gate Dam to the migration of coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead for the first time in nearly a century. The Klamath Hydroelectric Relicensing Agreement (KHRA) would provide a pathway that would lead to dam removal in 2020, following an analysis by the Interior Secretary to determine whether dam removal is indeed to the benefit of fisheries and “in the public interest.”

“This agreement marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Klamath River and for the communities whose health and way of life depend on it,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “Hats off to all the stakeholders who have worked so hard to find common ground on one of the most challenging water issues of our time. This agreement would establish an open, scientifically grounded process that will help me make a fully informed decision about whether dam removal is in the public interest.”

The Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes have supported the process, touting it as an unprecedented opportunity to restore the Klamath, historically one of the West’s great salmon and steelhead rivers. The Hoopa Valley Tribe has opposed the pact, calling it an “Old West water deal.” Most fishing groups have backed the process, while environmental groups and farming organizations are split over the agreement, with many supporting it and others criticizing it.

“We haven’t seen salmon in our country for 90 years; this Agreement represents our best chance of finally bringing the salmon home,” said Jeff Mitchell, council member for the Klamath Tribes of Oregon. “Once we decided to stop fighting and start talking, we realized the opportunities provided by collaboration and coalition building.”

The Karuk Tribe, Klamath Tribes, Yurok Tribe, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, California Trout, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Salmon River Restoration Council, Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, Sustainable and the Natural Heritage Institute released a joint statement Wednesday morning regarding the agreement. They said the Klamath Basin Tribes, counties, conservation groups, fishing groups, and farming and ranching organizations will consider the “pros and cons” of the Agreement and decide whether or not to support it in the coming weeks. Several groups already appear eager to support it.

“The Klamath River Basin has been used to support farming, local power needs, and commercial fishing for over a century, all at the expense of the health of the ecosystem that supports a wide array of plant and animal species,” said Curtis Knight, Mt. Shasta Area Regional Manager of California Trout. “After years of complex negotiations among interest groups and dam owner PacifiCorp, we have come to an agreement that will dramatically change the landscape along the Klamath.”

The Companion Agreement: Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement

The groups said the KHSA would be complemented by the implementation of a companion agreement, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). “Whereas the KHSA focuses on the fate of PacifiCorp’s lower four Klamath River Dams, the KBRA significantly increases water flows for fish, provides greater reliability of irrigation water delivery, undertakes Basin-scale habitat restoration, and makes critical economic investments to ensure the economic viability of Basin fishing and farming communities into the future,” the groups stated.

“This Agreement represents a major step toward restoring the health of the Klamath River,” said Troy Fletcher, negotiator and Yurok Tribal member. “We look forward to working with all Tribal, agricultural, and fishing communities in the Klamath Basin on implementing these solutions.”

The groups also noted that the safety of dam removal must be scrutinized through a public environmental review process consistent with all applicable state and federal environmental laws.

“Of course we’d like to see the dams removed tomorrow, but the reality is we must make sure dam removal is as safe as preliminary assessments suggest and that it can be done cost effectively,” said Steve Rothert, California Director for American Rivers. “For a restoration action that is simply unprecedented in scale and scope, this is actually a reasonable timeline.”

The KHSA is based on the Agreement in Principle (AIP) reached between the federal government, Oregon, California and PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, in November 2008. It provides for funding up to $200 million in dam removal costs by collecting a surcharge from PacifiCorp’s Oregon and California customers over the next 10 years. The Oregon legislature earlier this year authorized the customer surcharge. If necessary, the State of California would provide up to $250 million more towards the cost of removal with the total project costs not to exceed $450 million, according to the groups.

The groups added that release of the proposed Agreement marks “a significant shift in attitude for many in the basin. Over the past 20 years the Klamath has been marked by bitter and acrimonious debate. The various communities had targeted one another with lawsuits and protests, often marked by acts of civil disobedience, in a failure to truly resolve issues pertaining to water rights, river flows, and economic development.”

Greg Able, Chairman & CEO of PacifiCorp, lauded the agreement, describing it as a “balanced and reasonable outcome that best protects the interests of our customers, while achieving the policy objectives of the states and federal government, as well as helping to peacefully resolve numerous conflicts in the Klamath basin.”

Luther Horsley, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, emphasized that this agreement is part of a larger package, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement KBRA that “will provide meaningful benefits to irrigated agriculture.” Horsley applauded Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s commitment to complete the remaining work on the KBRA in order that it can be considered together with the Hydro Agreement.

“We look forward to having dedicated time, now that the Hydro Agreement is complete, to update and finalize the KBRA document,” said Horsley.

The agreement would not have been possible without the intense political pressure that the tribes and fishing organizations put on Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway owns PacifiCorp, at the annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska in 2007 and 2008. The tribes and fishermen disrupted the meeting in 2008, unfurling banners and demanding that Buffett sign a dam removal agreement.

After the AIP was reached between the federal government, Oregon, California and PacifiCorp last year, the tribes and fishermen this year went back to the shareholders meeting in late April and early May to thank Buffett and PacifiCorp for signing the agreement.

Klamath Riverkeeper Gives Agreement A Mixed Review

The Klamath Riverkeeper and other grassroots river advocates reacted to the final dam removal agreement package with mixed emotions.

“We support local stakeholders’ efforts to craft an agreement that works for everyone but it remains to be seen whether this agreement will hold water,” added Terence. “While many of Klamath Riverkeeper’s concerns about the viability and environmental impacts of the draft dam removal agreement have been largely addressed in the final version, some have not.”

In August, Klamath Riverkeeper released a 9-point list of concerns about the 2008 draft deal the Klamath-based non-profit wanted to see addressed before lending its support to the final dam removal agreement (http://www.klamathriver.org/media/pressreleases/Press-Release-080609.html).

“Language in the final Hydropower Agreement has improved on many points of concern to us, but we’re also analyzing some new language in the agreement,” said Terence. Klamath Riverkeeper is particularly concerned about a new clause that would give California, Oregon, the federal government and PacifiCorp the power to amend the agreement without the consent of other parties under some circumstances.

Terence emphasized that “it’s crucial that tribes and commercial fishermen are included in decision-making related to this settlement.”

Klamath Riverkeeper also remains concerned with the dam agreement’s compliance with the Clean Water Act and is scrutinizing the agreement to ensure that it upholds water quality requirements laid out in the Klamath TMDL, a Clean Water Act pollution clean-up plan currently being finalized on the mainstem Klamath. Another question left by the agreement is who will pay to clean up poor water quality around Keno Dam, Terence said.

“If our concerns are answered, the Klamath settlement could give us a better shot at getting four dams out by 2020 than any other venue. However, there are other ways to get the dams out including legal and legislative tools, and Klamath Riverkeeper will pursue them aggressively if parties to this settlement don’t follow through with their commitments or the process becomes bogged down dealing with loopholes and delays,” said Terence.

Friends of the River (FOR), a California-based statewide river conservation organization, is critical of the agreement for providing “little certainty” that the Klamath Dams would be removed.

“Although an important step towards restoration of the Klamath River, the draft settlement provides little certainty that PacifiCorp’s fish-killing and polluting dams will be removed by the proposed target date of 2020,” said Steve Evans, FOR Conservation Director. “It’s going to take a lot more work and effort by all parties to ensure that the dams are actually removed and the Klamath River salmon are restored in our lifetime.”

Despite its flaws, he said FOR will seriously consider signing the proposed settlement agreement. “If we don’t sign the agreement, we won’t be at the table to protect the public interest and advocate for swift removal of the dams,” Evans explained.

Hoopa Valley Tribe, Water Watch Oppose Pact

The Hoopa Valley Tribe on the Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest tributary, said the dam removal deal was “no cause for celebration,” criticizing it for failing to include Trinity River protections.

“We all agree dam removal is necessary for the improvement of Klamath-Trinity basin health, and the recovery of salmon runs,” said Mike Orcutt, Hoopa Tribal Fisheries Director. “But the theme of putting the business needs of PacifiCorp above area of origin and tribal water rights concerns us.”

He claimed that attempts by the Hoopa Tribe to protect the Trinity River Restoration Program during negotiations were ignored in the final KHSA. A Department of the Interior representative made note of the unfinished business with Hoopa in his closing remarks yesterday in Portland.

“We’ve seen, with the 2002 fish kill, the lack of honor the government has for their promises,” said Daniel Jordan, Hoopa Valley Tribe Self Governance Officer. “They continue to undermine the science, which in turn, undermines the scope of trust responsibilities to the Tribe.”

The Tribe added that the “deal also requires signatories to approve a companion agreement, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a water deal that undermines tribal fishery based water rights and provides assurances for all parties except tribes and fish.”

WaterWatch of Oregon also slammed the final draft dam removal plan, claiming that it protects the dam owner and agribusiness while leaving fish and wildlife at risk.

“The agreement announced today is not an agreement to remove the Klamath dams, but an agreement to go through a lengthy process to
determine whether or not to remove any dams,” said WaterWatch staff attorney Bob Hunter. “The agreement is riddled with escape routes for
the dam owner, and provides no guarantees that the dams will actually come out.”

Groups Oppose Governor’s Attempt to Link Klamath Dam Removal to Peripheral Canal

One of the biggest obstacles in the campaign by tribes, fishing groups and environmentalists to remove the dams has been Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s insistence that Klamath Dam removal be linked to a multi-billion dollar general obligation water bond that would build a peripheral canal and Temperance Flat and Sites Reservoirs.

The canal is strongly opposed by a broad coalition of fishing groups, conservation organizations, Indian Tribes, farming organizations and Delta residents. Opponents of the canal and new dams will strongly contest any final Klamath dam removal agreement that leads to the destruction of imperiled Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations.

When the federal government, California, Oregon and PacifiCorp signed the AIP last November, Schwarzenegger used the announcement as an opportunity to link Klamath Dam removal with building of the canal and dams. “Now, let me just say that we all know that we have a very serious water problem in California and, of course, we want to make sure that we build more water storage, above-the-ground and below-the-ground water storage, but they have to be strategically located,” stated Schwarzenegger. “So this is why it is important that we continue building those, even though we want to take four down.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger on Wednesday morning praised the agreement and, at least this time, didn’t include any link between Klamath Dam removal and building a peripheral canal and dams.

“Restoring the Klamath River is one of my top environmental priorities, and I am very happy to announce that the negotiating team has taken a tremendous step forward toward completing a preliminary agreement that will make possible the removal of the four dams blocking salmon passage,” said Schwarzenegger. “California has been a leader in bringing all 26 parties, ranging from Klamath Basin tribal governments to ranchers, and environmental groups to commercial fisherman, to the point where they will recommend the agreement to their organizations. The draft agreement not only addresses the unique needs of each of these very diverse groups, but also provides a framework for both environmental protection and economic growth in the region.”

While Schwarzenegger lauded the dam removal agreement, he has pursued a relentless campaign against Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations since he took office. Increased water exports from the California Delta and decreasing water quality under his administration have resulted in the unprecedented collapse of Sacramento River salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad, striped bass, green sturgeon, Sacramento splittail and other fish populations.

Most recently, Schwarzenegger appeared on the Sean Hannity show to attack the federal biological opinions protecting Delta smelt, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon and the southern resident population of killer whales from plunging into the abyss of extinction.

The Klamath Riverkeeper, Friends of the River and other groups have opposed Schwarzenegger’s attempt to link Klamath dam removal with a bond to build the peripheral canal and new dams. “California must support Klamath dam removal on its own merits,” summed up Georgiana Myers, Klamath Riverkeeper Community Organizer and Yurok Tribal Member.

For a copy of the Klamath Hydropower Agreement and an Executive Summary, go to http://www.edsheets.com

DAN BACHER can be reached at: Danielbacher@fishsniffer.com

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.