- Removal of the dams, three of which are in California and one of which is in Oregon, is scheduled to begin in 2020.
- The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) called it “one of the largest river restoration efforts in the nation.”
- The large hydroelectric dams were built along the Klamath River almost a century ago, blocking wild salmon and steelhead trout from reaching southern Oregon Klamath Tribes that have depended on them for thousands of years.
Government and company officials in California and Oregon have reached an agreement to remove four large hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in the hopes that it will restore the river’s historic fish runs.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) called it “one of the largest river restoration efforts in the nation.” Removal of the dams, three in California and one in Oregon, is scheduled to begin in 2020.
The agreement was signed at the mouth of the Klamath last week by California Governor Jerry Brown and Oregon Governor Kate Brown, as well as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, and the president and CEO of Pacific Power, the private utility company that owns the dams.
“This historic agreement will enable Oregon and California and the interested parties to get these four dams finally removed and the Klamath River restored to its pristine beauty,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.
The hydroelectric dams were built along the Klamath River almost a century ago, blocking wild salmon and steelhead trout from reaching southern Oregon Klamath Tribes that have depended on them for thousands of years. Proponents of the agreement argue that removing the dams and restoring hundreds of miles of river to its natural condition will help save fisheries and protect the environment for California, Oregon and sovereign Native American tribes.
The agreement is the culmination of a process that began in 2010, when PacifiCorp, environmentalists, farmers, fishermen, and state, federal and Native American tribal governments first agreed to restore the Klamath River. That 2010 pact gave the U.S. Interior Department a major role in decommissioning the dams and required the U.S. Congress to sign off. Congress failed to act by the 2015 deadline, however.
The new agreement, signed on April 6, amends the 2010 pact to eliminate direct federal involvement and the need for congressional authorization. Under the amendment, PacifiCorp has agreed to transfer ownership of the dams to a nonprofit created specifically for the purpose of seeking permission to begin dismantling the dams in 2020 from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission through a public process available under existing law.
The agreement did meet with some opposition, as described by the LA Times: “Some conservationists complained that the pact gave too much water to irrigators and not enough to fish. California’s Siskiyou County, where three of the dams are located, fought the loss of property taxes and a power source.”
But PacifiCorp, which is a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., portrays the dam dismantling as strictly a business decision. Meeting federal relicensing requirements for the aging dams would have required the company to spend about $400 million on fish ladders and water quality improvements.
“PacifiCorp continues to support the Klamath settlement as a fair way forward for our electricity customers in Oregon, California and beyond,” Stefan Bird, president and CEO of Pacific Power, a division of PacifiCorp, said in a statement. “The company is committed to continuing to work with our settlement partners to fully enact this important agreement.”
“These agreements are more than ink and paper, they are a roadmap to the future of the Klamath Basin and of the people who live there,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said in a statement. “I’m proud to be a part of a plan that invokes the spirit of collaboration to ensure the recovery of the Klamath’s historic fishing grounds while sustaining the region’s farming and ranching heritage.”