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Separate dam pact may muddy Klamath waters

Issue Date: March 23, 2016
By Christine Souza

The struggle over dams and water continues in the Klamath Basin, as officials from the states of California and Oregon, the utility company PacifiCorp and the federal government proceed with a plan to remove all or part of four PacifiCorp-owned hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.

In their first public meeting since announcing their plan last month, officials involved in revising the "agreement in principle"—a 133-page document that describes the parties' intent to negotiate dam removal through a process governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—met last week in Sacramento.

Removal of the hydroelectric dams had been part of a comprehensive set of agreements finalized by stakeholders in 2010, with the goal of providing water supply certainty for irrigators and a comprehensive plan to restore salmon runs. But the U.S. Congress did not authorize the agreements by a deadline at the end of 2015, prompting the agencies and PacificCorp to pursue a separate agreement on the hydroelectric facilities.

Klamath Water Project irrigators, represented by the Klamath Water Users Association, spent years negotiating the comprehensive agreement that expired. As those interested in dam removal move forward with the FERC process, KWUA finds it is no longer part of the amended dam-removal deal.

"For over a decade, we supported the comprehensive approach to settling the issues on the Klamath that included bargained-for benefits for our ag community, and those aren't there anymore. It has become extremely difficult to support this without our side of the package," KWUA Executive Director Scott White said.

Others, including Grace Bennett, chairwoman of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, expressed concern about how dam removal would affect the local economy and environment.

"This is our livelihood; this is our watershed; this is our home. For two decades, the county government has worked with landowners and water users to improve fish habitat and water quality in a successful effort to reverse the last century's trend of declining salmon runs," Bennett said. "It is truly perverse that the very agencies that are charged with species recovery are standing in the way of solutions that can readily be implemented."

From Oregon, Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams, who is a small irrigator in the Upper Klamath Lake Basin, spoke of lost tax revenue and jobs in his county.

"Losing the tax base with the dams coming out is a very hard hit for us," Mallams said.

If dam removal is approved, PacifiCorp would transfer title of the Klamath River dams to a nonfederal entity that would assume liability and take the appropriate steps to decommission and remove the dams in 2020.

Sarah Edmonds, vice president and general counsel of PacifiCorp Transmission, said during the meeting that the amended dam-removal agreement "lays out a new path while achieving the goals of the original (agreement), and it provides the same protections."

Representatives of a number of Klamath-area tribes at the meeting spoke of the importance of removing the dams.

"We rely upon our fish as not only a commercial product, but also as subsistence. This is very important to our people to take these dams out so we can start rebuilding this resource," Yurok Councilman Tom Wilson said.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham told the meeting that those involved in the revised dam-removal agreement will proceed "if sufficient parties decide this is what they would like to do."

Bonham thanked Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, for pushing the meeting into its public format, which is one he said will likely continue. In a statement read by an aide, LaMalfa criticized the dam-removal agreement, saying the discussion "has been mired in secrecy and appears to be in a way that excludes the public from the decision-making process."

John Bezdek, a senior adviser in the U.S. Department of the Interior, noted that comments from those who don't agree with dam removal remain very important and help shape the process.

"There are a lot of things that need to occur to get this (Klamath) Basin back to where we'd like it to be," Bezdek said. "We still need that basin-wide approach and we still want to bring everyone along."

Part of the meeting was spent making mostly minor revisions to the agreement-in-principle document, but with additional time spent on a section of the Klamath Basin Agreement stating that the parties negotiating dam removal are "committed to engage in good-faith efforts to enter into a longer-term agreement pertaining to the sustainability of management of water and land in the Klamath Basin for the benefit of fisheries, irrigation, counties, tribes and refuges." The section indicates that the separate agreement would establish procedures, schedules and other guidance to resolve remaining issues between the parties.

Bonham stated that it is through that section of the agreement in principle that a separate but related agreement would be created to handle water management.

"I want to find a way where our agricultural community partners that have been at the table a long time—all of the irrigation districts, all of the individuals, the leadership who took really bold steps to sort out their differences—aren't left behind," he said.

Klamath Water Users Association leader White said the KWUA is "interested in remaining engaged in the conversation of these agreements for the benefit of our ag community."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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