Sunday, September 25, 2016

Klamath Dam Removal Takes a Step Forward

Posted By on Sun, Sep 25, 2016 at 9:42 AM

click to enlarge Irongate Dam on the upper Klamath River. - COURTESY OF AMERICAN RIVERS AND KLAMATH RESTORATION COUNCIL
  • Courtesy of American Rivers and Klamath Restoration Council
  • Irongate Dam on the upper Klamath River.
The newly formed nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation and dam owner PacifiCorp filed applications Friday with federal regulators to decommission the four hydroelectric dams that clog the Klamath River.

The filings were hailed by proponents of dam removal as a milestone in refurbished plans to see the lower Klamath River dams removed in 2020. The dams block fish passage and contribute to the poor water quality on the lower river, which is currently seeing some of its lowest salmon returns in history. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will now determine whether to approve the license transfer and surrender applications, and will ultimately be the agency to decide whether to approve removal of the four dams.

“The deplorable water quality, back-to-back disease outbreaks and bottomed-out fish runs have taken a tremendous toll on our people,” said Yurok Tribal Chair Thomas O’Rourke Sr. “We welcome this major step toward restoring Klamath fish populations and providing salmon once again to our upstream neighbors, the Klamath Tribes.”


North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman, who has fought for Klamath dam removal since taking office, issued a statement praising this step toward “restoring an iconic river and rebuilding its salmon runs.”

“I am grateful to the KRRC and their leadership and PacifiCorp for their willingness to participate in this important effort,” Huffman said. “Their submission (Friday) sets in motion the process to remove the dams, which will be the largest project of its kind in history.”

For more on the path ahead for the Klamath, see past Journal coverage here, and click here to read our recent retrospective on decades of water fights and efforts to undam the Klamath. And find full press releases from Huffman and the Karuk Tribe copied below.


From Huffman:

Rep. Huffman Backs Dam Removal Plan Submitted to Federal Government

WASHINGTON­—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) today applauded the Klamath River Renewal Corporation’s (KRRC) filing with federal regulators, a major milestone in the effort to tear out the river’s hydropower dams.

“Removing the four dams on the Klamath River, an effort which is backed by so many of my constituents, is a vital step towards restoring the iconic river and rebuilding its salmon runs,” said Rep. Huffman. “I am grateful to the KRRC for their leadership and PacifiCorp for their willingness to participate in this important effort. Their submission today sets in motion the process to remove the dams, which will be the largest project of its kind in history. This milestone is a tribute to the hard work of the tribes, fishing groups, conservation organizations, and the Obama administration, who have been steadfast in working to correct this serious West Coast environmental problem.”

The KRRC and PacifiCorp jointly filed a license transfer application along with a surrender application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission aimed at decommissioning and removing the salmon-blocking dams.

The KRRC was created out of the Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement in 2016, signed by the Karuk and Yurok tribes, environmental and fishing groups, PacifiCorp, the U.S. Departments of Interior and Commerce, and others. The KRRC will oversee the process of removing the dams, which for decades have blocked salmon migration and contributed to poor water quality and fish diseases on the Klamath River.

Congressman Huffman was very active on pushing for congressional action on the Klamath settlement. You can read more about his work here. 

From the Karuk Tribe:

KLAMATH DAM SURRENDER APPLICATION FILED WITH FEDERAL AGENCY
Klamath River Renewal Corporation, PacifiCorp move Dam Removal Process Forward


Washington, DC — Today, PacifiCorp and the newly formed non-profit Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), filed motions with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that seek to transfer the lower four Klamath dams to the KRRC for the purpose of decommissioning and removal.

FERC is the congressionally authorized agency that licenses and oversees power plans and hydroelectric dams.

“Today we reached yet another milestone along the path to restoring the Klamath River,” said Karuk Councilman Joshua Saxon. “This is great news and there’s no time to waste. We are suffering from one of the worst salmon runs in history this year.”

“The deplorable water quality, back-to-back disease outbreaks and bottomed-out fish runs have taken a tremendous toll on our people. We welcome this major step toward restoring Klamath fish populations and providing salmon once again to our upstream neighbors, the Klamath Tribes,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., Chairman of the Yurok Tribe.

The progress towards the largest dam removal in US history comes after years of deadlock for Klamath parties. Originally, dam owner PacifiCorp, Tribes, conservation groups, and irrigation districts negotiated a larger settlement agreement that would not only remove dams but balance water use between the Klamath River, Upper Klamath Lake, wildlife refuges, and the Klamath Irrigation Project. This agreement would have invested millions in habitat restoration and irrigation efficiency. Despite broad bi-partisan support at the grass roots level, Representatives Walden and LaMalfa tanked the deal.

Now dam removal is proceeding anyway under the jurisdiction of FERC.

“It’s a shame that congress would not move the larger Klamath legislative package. Dam removal is a huge leap forward, but we still need to resolve water disputes between river communities and farm communities,” adds Saxon.

Although FERC is still a long way from approving dam removal plans, dam removal advocates are optimistic that it process will indeed lead to dam removal. KRRC Board Member Wendy George notes, “much of the environmental analysis has already been completed. The Final Environmental Impact Statement released by the Department of Interior in March of 2013 concluded that dam removal is safe, cost-effective, and will lead to improved fisheries and water quality. That analysis went on to recommend full removal of PacifiCorp’s lower four Klamath dams.”

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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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