Thursday, June 17, 2021

Historic Klamath Dam Removal Project Takes Another Step Forward

Posted By on Thu, Jun 17, 2021 at 12:27 PM

click to enlarge Copco Dam on the Klamath River. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE U.S. DEPT. OF THE INTERIOR.
  • Photo courtesy of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.
  • Copco Dam on the Klamath River.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Committee today paved the way for the four dams clogging the Klamath River to be taken down, approving a transfer of the hydroelectric license from PacifiCorp to the nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation and the states of Oregon and California.

“Since 2016, PacifiCorp, along with a coalition of state and federal agencies, Tribes, the states of Oregon and California, and other stakeholders, have worked together to propose surrender of the project license, which includes a plan to decommission the four dams on the Klamath River that comprise the Project,” a FERC news release states. “Today’s transfer is another important step in the ongoing surrender proceeding.”

The decision comes at a crucial juncture, with conditions in the Klamath Basin at the worst they’ve been in years due to drought conditions, threatening the ecology of the river and a way of life for local Tribes.

North Coast Congressmember Jaren Huffman, who has been active in the removal efforts, praised today’s decision in a news release that notes the historic decommissioning of the dams “will open 420 miles of salmon spawning habitat, and dramatically improve water quality and temperature conditions on the Klamath River that cause and increase disease in fish.”

click to enlarge Jared Huffman. - CONGRESS
  • Congress
  • Jared Huffman.

“The tribes and stakeholders of the Klamath River basin have worked diligently for years to restore one of the West’s most important watersheds, and now FERC has moved to make this a reality,” Huffman said. “The partnerships between the states, the tribes, the utility, and many others are ringing in a new era that recognizes the injustices of the past and invests in the future.”

Local Tribes, including the Karuk and Yurok Tribes, conservationists and fishermen have been issuing alarm bells in recent months over the especially dire conditions this year — with a baby salmon dying at such an alarming rate there’s fear none will survive.

“What Klamath Basin communities are facing right now is the definition of a disaster. It is also the new normal. Substantial water shortages are along-predicted symptom of climate change. There is an urgent need for an equitable federal disaster relief bill that addresses the immediate needs of our communities and establishes a foundation from which to build a more resilient ecology and economy in the Klamath Basin, Yurok Vice Chair Frankie Myers said in May. “We owe it to future generations to never let another juvenile fish kill like this happen again. We need to act now before it is too late for the Klamath salmon.”

A month earlier, as basin Tribes sent a letter to the Biden administration requesting aid, Karuk Tribal Chair Russell Attebery also voiced concerns that a way of life is at stake.

“The Klamath Basin is in crisis,” he said. “This drought has the potential to irrevocably damage the already anguished ecosystems and economic viability of the area. Salmon are the lifeblood of the Karuk people and play an integral role in our culture, ceremonies, and nourishment. We have watched our fisheries decline for decades and have done everything in our power to save them, but we have arrived at an impasse; there is nothing we can do to make the rain come.”

Last week, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland joined the chorus of voices calling for the dams' removal, penning a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee in support of moving forward with the project.

click to enlarge Deb Haaland
  • Deb Haaland

“Dam removal will restore salmonid fisheries, reestablish fish passage, improve water quality and bring new recreation and economic opportunities to the Basin," Haaland, the nation's first Native Interior Secretary, wrote. "Moreover, removal will advance the Biden-Harris administrations’ commitments to combat the climate crisis, increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change; protect public health; conserve our lands, waters, and biodiversity; deliver environmental justice; and fulfill the Federal Government’s trust and treaty responsibilities.”

The four hydroelectric dams are slated to be removed in 2023.

Read the FERC release below:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today approved the transfer of the license for the Lower Klamath Hydroelectric Project (Project) from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation and the states of Oregon and California, as co-licensees.

Since 2016, PacifiCorp, along with a coalition of state and federal agencies, Tribes, the States of Oregon and California, and other stakeholders, have worked together to propose surrender of the Project license, which includes a plan to decommission the four dams on the Klamath River that comprise the Project.  Today’s transfer is another important step in the ongoing surrender proceeding.

Today’s order confirms that the Renewal Corporation has the ability, financially and otherwise, to undertake dam removal, and with the states, as co-licensees, the necessary legal and technical expertise required for such a huge undertaking.  The surrender application is still pending before the Commission and is awaiting further environmental review as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.  The Commission will continue to engage with all parties and stakeholders to ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in the surrender proceeding.

Read the release from Huffman’s office below:

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) applauded the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) decision today to allow the Klamath River dam removal project to go forward, clearing the way for a massive effort to restore struggling salmon runs vital for tribal and coastal communities.

FERC approved PacifiCorp, the non-profit Klamath River Renewal Corporation, and the states of California and Oregon’s application to transfer the utility’s hydropower license to the nonprofit organization for surrender. The decommissioning and removal of PacifiCorp’s four dams will open 420 miles of salmon spawning habitat, and dramatically improve water quality and temperature conditions on the Klamath River that cause and increase disease in fish.

“The tribes and stakeholders of the Klamath River basin have worked diligently for years to restore one of the West’s most important watersheds, and now FERC has moved to make this a reality,” Rep. Huffman said. “The partnerships between the states, the tribes, the utility, and many others are ringing in a new era that recognizes the injustices of the past and invests in the future.”

The four dams on the Klamath River produce a marginal amount of electricity, and their reservoirs superheat water and experience dangerous algal blooms every summer. They provide no flood control or water supply. Years of study show that removal of the dams are in the public interest and will lead to significantly better conditions on the river.

“Today’s order confirms that the Renewal Corporation has the ability, financially and otherwise, to undertake dam removal, and with the states, as co-licensees, the necessary legal and technical expertise required for such a huge undertaking,” FERC wrote in announcing the decision. “The surrender application is still pending before the Commission and is awaiting further environmental review as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Commission will continue to engage with all parties and stakeholders to ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in the surrender proceeding.”

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland last week filed a letter with FERC urging the commission to approve the application for transfer. “Today we have an incredible opportunity to restore this magnificent river, rewrite a painful chapter in our history, and do so in a manner that protects the many interests in the basin,” Secretary Haaland wrote.

The dam removal is consistent with the Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement signed in 2010 and amended in 2016 by federal agencies, the states of Oregon and California, the Yurok and Karuk tribes, Humboldt County, and conservation organizations.

Rep. Huffman has been an active partner in the efforts to remove the Klamath River dams. Following signs in July 2020 that PacifiCorp may walk back its commitment to dam removal, Rep. Huffman, Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, held a public forum to examine the terrible impacts the dams have had on salmon and downstream water quality. In September of that year, he successfully offered an amendment to the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, which was approved by the House, to safeguard Tribal communities against further harm to the Klamath River and its ecosystem caused by PacifiCorp’s delays.
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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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