Four dams to be taken out in Southern Oregon and Northern California: ‘The Klamath salmon are coming home’
By Lee Juillerat for the Ashland.news
The removal of four Klamath River dams, something that’s been talked about for years, has moved closer to becoming reality.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave final approval Thursday to a plan to remove four Klamath River dams in California and Oregon.
FERC’s order paves the way for enactment of a settlement agreement nearly 15 years in the making by California, Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, Berkshire Hathaway Energy-owned utility company PacifiCorp, fishing groups, and other stakeholders “to carry out the ambitious plan to remove dams, and address fish population, river health and tribal communities and cultures.”
In its ruling, FERC commissioners determined the “surrender of the Lower Klamath Project license” and removal of the project to be in the public interest” and grants the Renewal Corporation’s surrender application “subject to terms and conditions and acceptance of the license transfer.”
The approval is the final ruling from the federal regulator needed to fully implement the Amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement that was signed in 2016.
In June 2021, FERC approved “allowing dam owner PacifiCorp to be removed from the license for the hydroelectric project and transfer it to the states of California and Oregon and the nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) as co-licensees to carry out removal of the dams pending final sign-off on the dam removal plan.”
Following formal acceptance of the license transfer by the states and the KRRC, parties led by the KRRC will begin pre-construction steps in 2023 to lay the groundwork to complete removal of the dams. Under the approved plan, the Copco No. 2 dam will be removed as soon as the summer of 2023 followed by the removal of J.C. Boyle, which is in Oregon’s Klamath County, in 2024. Also scheduled for removal in 2024 are the Copco No. 1 and Iron Gate dams, which are both in far Northern California’s Siskiyou County.
The announcement resulted in comments from several interested parties, including the governors of Oregon and California, tribal leaders and others who applauded the decision. The Klamath Water Users Association, which diverts and delivers irrigation water to more than 150,000 of farmlands in Klamath, Siskiyou and Modoc counties, offered another view.
In a statement, KWUA said the organization “had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with PacifiCorp’s hydroelectric dams. Today, we are disillusioned, but not so much by the fact that the dams will be removed: KWUA took a neutral position on the 2016 Amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (AKHSA), which led to the FERC decision. We have kept our commitment to stay out of the way of parties that prioritize dam removal. Rather, we are disillusioned and disappointed that so many parties have turned their backs on the Klamath Basin agricultural community, and failed to honor reciprocal commitments made to producers in2016. Above all, this means that parties to the AKHSA failed to keep commitments to negotiate in good faith to put in place a new water agreement.”
Others, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, praised the decision. According to Newsom, “Today’s action culminates more than a decade of work to revitalize the Klamath River and its vital role in the tribal communities, cultures and livelihoods sustained by it. California is grateful for the partnership of Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, Berkshire Hathaway and the many other stakeholders who came together to make this transformative effort a reality for the generations to come.”
Likewise, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said, “This enormous step forward will make historic progress in revitalizing the Klamath River, which is vital to the sustainability of all communities in the Klamath Basin. Beyond ecological restoration, this is also an act of restorative justice. Since time immemorial, the Indigenous peoples of the Klamath Basin have preserved the lands, waters, fish, and wildlife of this treasured region — and this project will not only improve its water and fish habitat, but also boost our economy.” Brown said. ”I am grateful for the hard work and perseverance of the region’s tribes, and the partnership of California, who have come together for many years to make this possible.”
The Klamath Basin Klamath Tribes also lauded the decision, with tribal chairman Clayton Dumont saying, “The Klamath Tribes are overjoyed by the news of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) unanimous vote today to remove four dams from the Klamath River. Today’s decision underscores the need to move expeditiously to restore the health of our homeland ecosystem. The Klamath Tribes,” he said, “remain eager to work with federal, state, and local partners who are willing to swallow hard and have the difficult discussions required to restore the ecological health, beauty, and economic potential of our shared home here in the Upper Basin.”
Tribal secretary Roberta Frost also responding, saying, “These dams have kept the Klamath Tribes from one of our traditional foods, c’iyaals (salmon), for over a hundred years. The Klamath Tribes once relied upon thousands of pounds of c’iyaals from upper basin rivers for not just subsistence but for good health. The return of these fish will lead directly to both improved mental and physical health among our people.”
Leaders of downstream tribes, including Yurok Chairman Joseph James, also had praise for the decision. “The Klamath salmon are coming home,” James said. “The people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time.”
Karuk Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebary, echoed James, saying, “Today’s victory was well earned by the thousands of people who fought for clean water, healthy fisheries, and environmental justice for Klamath River communities. I am grateful to everyone, from the youth to the elders, Governors Newsom and Brown, and the team from PacifiCorp who made this victory possible.”
Stefan Bird, PacificCorp president and CEO, termed the ruling “a major achievement for everyone who developed and helped advance this historic agreement over many years. I want to wholeheartedly thank the leadership of Yurok and Karuk tribes, Governors Newsom and Brown and their predecessors, and all of our partners who remained committed to resolving this complex and difficult issue through settlement.
KRRC Board President Brian Johnson, saluted the decision, saying, “This is an incredible milestone and key step forward on the path to accomplishing KRRC’s core mission to remove the four lower Klamath dams. Today’s decision is the culmination of decades of collective work by our many dedicated partners and relentless champions of a restored Klamath River to reconnect a basin that had been cut in half for more than a century.”
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com.
Nov. 18 update: Corrected the year in which the second, third and fourth dams may be removed (2024, not 2014).