Oregon Trout Unlimited and the Klamath Restoration Project

Last month, Todd Mullen, vice president of Trout Unlimited Chapter 678 sat in on a call with the TU folks who are working on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and sent out the following summary:

You may have heard on the news that an agreement was signed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Governor Kulongoski, Governor Schwarzenegger, and PacifiCorp, setting the stage for removal of four dams on the Klamath River (J.C. Boyle, Copco, Iron Gate I and Iron Gate II). There are lots of parties involved including two state governments CA and OR, the Federal Government, several county and city municipalities, farmers, ranchers, multiple native American tribes, and of course the various environmental contingencies.

The highlights of the agreement are as follows:

1. The agreement is not a “Final Agreement”. It is an agreement in principle and is non-binding.
2. This is the first time that Pacific Corp. said it would remove the dams.
3. The agreement would be the world’s largest river restoration project.

The estimated cost of the project is over half a billion dollars. As part of this agreement Pacific Corp. has agreed to pay up to $200 million for dam removal. California plans to institute a general obligation bond for $450 million. Interim measures include instituting a surcharge for Pacific Corp. customers to cover the costs. Pacific Corp will also work on developing new power sources to replace the loss of energy production when the dams are removed.

A dam removal study would be completed by 2012 and analyzed by the Secretary of the Interior. The study would determine the benefits and justify the cost of sediment removal etc. Permitting for dam removal and approval would be obtained during the 2012-2020 time period. Then in 2020 (the target for dam removal) the project would be handed over to the contractor with the winning bid. During and after dam removal there will need to be continued interaction with the farming community to ensure a workable solution for all parties.

In general TU supports the agreement and has secured a place at the negotiating table. The agreement is by no means finished. Criticisms to the agreement include the following:

– The agreement is seen as being too beneficial to Pacific Corp.
– The agreement will cost rate payers too much.
– The agreement takes too long for dam removal.
– The study is only for dam removal.
– There is nothing in the agreement that addresses water usage and water quality.

A binding agreement will hopefully be agreed upon next year in conjunction with the new administration. TU has experience with negotiating dam removal projects and has already signed three previous agreements with Pacific Corp. TU will also be able to provide extensive restoration experience for this phase of the project. Scientists will provide support to the project as no one really knows what will happen when the dams are removed.

Payoffs expected for 2025 and beyond:
– Sustainable fish populations
– Money for fisheries programs
– Improved ground water and surface water allocations
– Improved spawning above Upper Klamath Lake
– Money for improving Sprague River habitat
– Better access for fish to the Williamson and Wood Rivers that are already in pretty good shape.
– Good Coho habitat under the reservoir
– Improvements in water quality as currently there are toxic algae bloom problems in the California reservoirs.
– Green jobs would be created which would aid in improving the economic viability of many of the small (less populated) counties in the region.

For more on the Klamath Project, check out National Geographic’s great article.

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