Salmon and steelhead will once again ascend the upper Klamath River and its tributaries, as they did for thousands of years before dams were built, if an agreement reached earlier this month goes into effect.
The Klamath River below Iron Gate Dam.
At the mouth of the Klamath River at Requa in Northwest California, representatives of the US Departments of the Interior and Commerce, the states of Oregon and California, the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe and PacifiCorp signed an agreement on April 6 clearing the path for dam removal on the river.
The Amendment to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA)—if approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—will initiate the removal of four dams on the Klamath River. It will be “one of the largest river restoration projects in the history of the US,” according to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel.
Under the agreement, dam owner PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, will transfer its license to operate the Klamath River dams to a private company. That company, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, will oversee the dam removal in 2020.
PacifiCorp will continue to operate the four dams, including Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2 in California north of Yreka and J.C. Boyle in Oregon, until they are decommissioned.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the agreement “historic” for “parties who have worked for decades to restore the Klamath Basin are reaffirming their commitment to each other for the shared vision of fisheries restoration and irrigated agriculture co-existing as we move into the future. This agreement is an important initial step as we work toward a comprehensive set of actions to advance long term restoration and sustainability for tribes, fisheries, and agriculture and water users across the Klamath Basin.”
Yurok Tribe Chairman Thomas O’Rourke, NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, California Governor Jerry Brown, PacifiCorp President and CEO Stefan Bird, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Secretary Jewell, environmental and fishery conservation groups and other Klamath River tribes participated in the signing event on the Yurok Reservation.
“Dam removal is a key element of large-scale fish restoration efforts on the Klamath, and we believe it puts the people of the Klamath Basin back on a path toward lasting prosperity,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr.
The Klamath River was historically the third most productive salmon and steelhead watershed on the West Coast, but the once robust fishery has declined over the decades. The removal of four dams owned by PacifiCorp will open up hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat for fish.
In September 2015, the Yurok tribe withdrew from the previous KHSA and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) over the tribe’s concerns that a parallel Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement was finalized in March 2014 without the participation of the Yurok Tribe.
The new dam removal agreement seeks to use existing funding and the same timeline as the original agreement. It is expected to be filed with FERC by July 1, and will be vetted using established, public processes, according to a statement from the tribe.
The state and federal representatives also signed a second pact, the Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement (KPFA), designed to help upper basin irrigators “properly prepare for the return of salmon to the upper basin by constructing fish screens as well as other measures to protect and restore fish populations,” according to the tribe.
The KPFA acknowledges that “additional actions” are required to restore the Klamath Basin’s fisheries, fulfill trust responsibilities to the tribes, and sustain the region’s farming and ranching industry, according to O’Rourke.
O’Rourke concluded, “The Klamath River is our lifeline and it is inextricably linked to the health and welfare of the Yurok people. It will be a truly historic day when we see salmon travel from the Klamath’s headwaters to the sea.”
For a good breakdown of the two agreements—what they do and what they don’t do–click here.
The Karuk tribe also praised the signing of the agreement.
“We believe that taking care of the Klamath River is the responsibility of everyone who lives in the basin,” explained Karuk chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery. “We can’t restore our fishery without working with our neighbors in agriculture and they can’t secure water for their farms without working with us. Dam removal is huge leap forward, but we must continue to work with the agriculture community to solve water conflicts as well.”
The, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, Institute for Fisheries Resources, American Rivers, California Trout, the Federation of Fly Fishers, Trout Unlimited and the Klamath Riverkeeper also released statements applauding the signing of the amended KHSA and Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement.
“The four Klamath Dams slated for removal (which have no fish passage) have been disastrous for west coast salmon fisheries—and salmon-related jobs—over more than 700 miles of Northern California and Oregon coastline,” said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA).
Konrad Fisher, director of Klamath Riverkeeper, said, “After a decade-long grassroots campaign led by tribal members from the Klamath River, we overcame the greatest odds and now have an agreement that paves the way for a free flowing Klamath River by 2020. After years of lawsuits, protests, and inaction and inaction by Congress, we can celebrate a new path toward dam removal which means cleaner water and improved conditions for salmon.”
Governor Brown, who has been strongly criticized by tribes, fishermen, and grassroots environmentalists for his plan to build two giant water tunnels underneath the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta; his implementation of faux “marine protected areas” under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative; and his support for fracking and other controversial environmental policies, said his administration supports Klamath dam removal and river restoration.
“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,” said Brown.
The Hoopa Valley tribe did not sign the agreement because of its concerns over provisions of the agreement, although Ryan Jackson, chairman of the Hoopa Valley tribe, and other members of the tribe attended the event in Requa.
The tribe said it was concerned that Section 1.7 of the agreement refers to the Trinity River Restoration Program. “This agreement shouldn’t impact the Trinity River Restoration Program (TRRP),” said Jackson.
He and other Hoopa Valley Tribe representatives in a recent meeting I attended also asked for the removal of Section 1.9 that refers to the 2016 Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement (KPFA). “The real focus should be dam removal by itself,” he stated.
In addition, Jackson is concerned about the proposed transfer of ownership of the Trinity River Fish Hatchery, now owned by PacifiCorp and operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in partnership with Hoopa Valley Tribe in their coho program, to the state of California. He said the hatchery should be transferred instead to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the trustee for the tribe.
“We want to see a comprehensive package that addresses and protects tribal rights, and tribal sovereignty as well,” Jackson told KRCR News.
Don Gentry, Chair of the Klamath Tribes of Oregon, said that neither he nor other representatives of the tribes could sign the agreement until it is approved by a vote of the tribes’ members.
Key Components of Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA)
— Does not end the FERC process; but changes it from a relicensing procedure to a decommissioning procedure;
— PacifiCorp agrees to transfer title of the dams to a newly formed entity that will then apply for a surrender and decommissioning process with FERC and also take on any liabilities associated with the removal of the dams;
— Does not require any new federal funding or Congressional action or authorizations;
— Adheres to the original KHSA timeline of dam removal in the year 2020;
— Does not suspend or alter any existing environmental laws including the Endangered — Species Act, the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act or others;
— Does not waive, alter, or terminate any Tribal water or fishing rights.