Four Klamath River Dams May Be Removed to Benefit Salmon

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 6:18 PM EDT
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Four Klamath River Dams May Be Removed to Benefit Salmon

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NEVADA CITY, California, November 20, 2008 (ENS) - Four dams on the Klamath River that have blocked salmon runs upstream to their spawning areas may be removed in the year 2020 under an historic agreement among federal, state and corporate parties.

Dam removal will re-open over 300 miles of habitat for the Klamath's salmon and steelhead populations and eliminate water quality problems such as toxic algae blooms in the reservoirs.

The federal government, the state of California, the state of Oregon and the PacifiCorp electric utility Thursday announced an Agreement in Principle to remove the four dams as part of a broader effort to restore the river and revive its ailing salmon and steelhead runs and aid fishing, tribal and farming communities.

The agreement is intended to guide the development of a final settlement agreement scheduled to be signed in June 2009.

"This is a historic announcement and the culmination of years of hard work from the numerous negotiators from the federal government and the states of California and Oregon, and PacifiCorp representatives who have worked toward a common goal of how best to protect the uniqueness of this region," said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.

"We have agreed to a path forward that will protect fish, PacifiCorp customers and the local cultures and communities in the two-state Klamath River basin," Kempthorne said.

The United States will make a final determination by March 31, 2012, whether the benefits of dam removal will justify the costs, informed by scientific and engineering studies conducted in the interim, and in consultation with state, local, and tribal governments and other stakeholders.

At that point, the United States shall designate a non-federal dam removal entity to remove the dams or decline to remove the dams.

Rebecca Wodder, president of the nonprofit American Rivers who for years has urged removal of the dams, said, "We have not popped the champagne cork yet, but we have put a bottle on ice. The initial agreement is a huge step toward a healthy Klamath River Basin. American Rivers looks forward to working out remaining details in the final negotiations."

"This will be the world's biggest dam removal project. But ultimately, this isn't about tearing down dams. It is about restoring one of the most important rivers on the west coast, boosting local economies, and revitalizing fishing, tribal and farming communities."

The Klamath River was once the third most productive salmon river system in the United States. Today, due to the dams, poor water quality and too little water left in the river, the Klamath salmon runs have are less than 10 percent of their historic size. Some species, such as coho salmon, are now in such low numbers in the Klamath River that they are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called the agreement "the largest dam removal project ever in history that California, Oregon and our federal and private partners are undertaking to improve water quality, water supply and fish populations in the Klamath region."

"The health of the Klamath River is critical to the livelihood of numerous Northern California communities, and with this groundbreaking agreement we have established a framework for restoring an important natural resource for future generations," he said.

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski said, "While many months of work lay ahead, this historic agreement provides a path forward to achieve the largest river and salmon restoration effort ever undertaken in a way that's good for fish, PacifiCorp customers, and local communities and our sovereign tribes."

The Klamath Tribes, along with the Karuk and Yurok tribes of California have for years sought removal of the dams.

"With Oregon's best interests in mind, it is with great pride that I will be taking the first step in implementing this agreement by offering legislation to support the dam decommissioning and removal process," Kulongoski said.

Assuming a final agreement is reached next year and pending congressional approval, PacifiCorp will set aside millions of dollars for immediate environmental improvements. The funds would be used to implement numerous measures that will enhance habitat, improve water quality, increase fish populations, and benefit fisheries management in the basin.

"This careful effort to balance the complex needs of numerous interests within the community is exactly the type of approach PacifiCorp takes every time we sit down to the settlement table," said Greg Abel, PacifiCorp chairman and chief executive.

"This flexible framework ensures that our customers will be protected at every step along the way, while remaining consistent with our strong commitment to respecting the environment. We will continue to work diligently with everyone at the table, including the irrigators, environmentalists, the tribes and all local elected officials with the goal of reaching a final dam removal agreement that is in the economic interests of PacifiCorp customers."

Wodder says PacifiCorp's four dams produce only a nominal amount of power, which can be replaced using renewables and efficiency measures, without contributing to global warming.

A study by the California Energy Commission and the Department of the Interior found that removing the dams and replacing their power would save PacifiCorp customers up to $285 million over 30 years.

PacifiCorp agrees to contribute as much as $200 million to cover the cost of removing its four dams and restoring the river. Dam removal funds would be obtained from ratepayers in Oregon and California before removal begins. The impact to customer bills will be less than one percent.

If the costs of dam removal exceed PacifiCorp's contribution, California and Oregon together would contribute up to $250 million. Current estimates of dam removal costs range between $75 million and $200 million.

{Photo: PacifiCorp's Iron Gate dam on the Klamath River in California. Green color of the reservoir indicates the presence of toxic algae. (Photo by Jim McCarthy)}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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