Agreement Would Bypass Congress to Close Klamath Dams

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By Carolyn Whetzel

April 6 — An agreement signed in Northern California April 6 advances an effort launched earlier this year to bypass congressional approval to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.

The Obama administration, the governors of California and Oregon and PacifiCorp will instead pursue decommissioning of the dams administratively through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others said at a signing ceremony held at the mouth of the Klamath River.

Federal and state officials also signed a separate agreement to help farmers, ranchers and others in the upper Klamath basin address any potential adverse regulatory and financial impacts from the dam removal and restoration project.

Both agreements stem from the lack of congressional action that allowed the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a 2010 interstate agreement that took years to negotiate, to expire Dec. 31, 2015.

“These agreements are a path forward for the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the U.S.,” Jewell said. “Hundreds of miles of habit will be opened for the first time in 100 years.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said the two agreements “mark a beginning of a new chapter” for the Klamath.

“This is good exercise of humankind correcting some of the mistakes that it's made in the past,” California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said at the event in Klamath. “The end goal here is the river, the fish and the sustainability, not for the next election cycle, but for eons and thousands of years.”

In February, the Obama administration and PacifiCorp, the six-state subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. that owns the dams, signed an agreement in principle to take the removal plan directly to federal energy regulators .

Others Working on Dam Removal

Meanwhile, federal and state agencies, the company, Native American tribal governments, the Klamath Water Users Association, environmental groups and others who negotiated the expired agreement continued to collaborate to move the dam removal project and restoration forward, Jewell said.

“Tearing out the four dams on the Klamath will be a huge leap forward for the river,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said in a written statement. “It will open up hundreds of miles of salmon spawning habitat, get rid of shallow reservoirs that trap warm water and cause algae blooms, and help finally repair a long stream of injustices to the tribes and communities along the river.”

The newly amended dam removal agreement, the “Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement,” is expected to go the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission around July 1, federal officials said.

The agreement relies on existing nonfederal funding and adheres to the same timeline, federal officials said. PacifiCorp customers in California and Oregon and California revenue bonds will pay for the project.

PacifiCorp to Transfer Operating License

PacifiCorp will transfer its license to operate the dams to the Klamath River Renewal Corp., a private company that will oversee the removal of the dams in 2020. PacifiCorp, however, will continue to operate the dams until they are decommissioned.

Combined, the aging four dams provide only 169 megawatts of capacity, less than the typical capacity of a single modern natural gas or coal-fired power plant. The Bureau of Reclamation currently operates the dams, and the Commerce Department's NOAA Fisheries Services protect salmon and steelhead in the river. The dams pose a threat to the migratory fish.

While the Native American tribes that depend on the fish support the dam removal, they haven't yet signed the second pact, the “2016 Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement.”

That agreement requires parties to work together to complete the river restoration project and bars legal challenges. Full implementation also will require congressional action, Jewell said.

More work is needed “to provide long-term certainty over water supply for agriculture and to maintain health flows in the river, and restore land taken from the Klamath tribes,” Oregon's Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said in a joint written statement. “Congress will still need to help bring all these issues to resolution.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at cwhetzel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com