Klamath Dam and Water Deals Delayed Further
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
All of the 42 groups involved in negotiating the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), including Humboldt County, the Karuk Tribe, the Yurok Tribe, and framers in the Upper Klamath Basin, have signed on to extend the agreement for another two years.
Rob Unruh, a farmer from Malin, Oregon and vice president of the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), said, “It’s really a no-brainer, there is plainly no downside to extending the deadline and the upside is tremendous for our communities.”
The KBRA, paired with the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), is part of a complex arrangement to potentially dismantle four dams owned by PacifiCorp, guarantee water for farm irrigation, and reintroduce salmon to parts of the Klamath River currently blocked by the dams.
The agreement would also release PacifiCorp from any liability for environmental problems caused by operations of its currently unlicensed dams, and would leave tribes unable to fully assert their water rights.
Regina Chichizola, spokeswoman for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, criticized the KBRA for what she called, “Orwellian language.”
“It will say it doesn’t take away Indian water rights,” Chichizola said. “But if you read the next section, it takes away the ability to use those rights, because the U.S. government as trustee guarantees the tribes won’t assert their rights.”
The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) seemed to share that interpretation.
The KWUA issued a press release on Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, that praised the benefits for Oregon’s farmers of limiting tribal water rights claims.
Gary Wright, the organization’s president, wrote, “As part of the settlement package the Klamath Tribes will limit exercising those rights (whatever they turn out to be) against Project irrigators.’
Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors signed on to extend the KBRA back in November, despite opposition from community members, environment groups, and four of the seven tribes along the Klamath.
Craig Tucker, Klamath coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, spoke in favor of extending the agreement.
“I think everybody in this room has the same goal. We want the dams removed and the rivers put back together,” Tucker said.
An alternative to the KBRA, with wide support during November’s Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors meeting, is the use of existing dam licensing regulations through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Dana Silvernale, chair of the Humboldt County Green Party, told the Board, “I urge you to make dam removal your priority, and use the FERC process that removed the Condit Dam.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is responsible for licensing and relicensing hydroelectric dams, and four of PacifiCorp’s licenses to operate their dams have expired.
In Dec. 2010, Portland-based Pacific Power surrendered their license for the Condit Dam on the White Salmon River.
The company decided that removing the 97-year-old dam would be cheaper than paying for the upgrades needed to relicense it.
In order for the aging dams on the Klamath to be relicensed, PacifiCorp would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act regulations which didn’t exist when the dams were first built.
That possibility was one of the motivations behind PacifiCorp’s involvement with the two linked agreements. The KHSA would require California taxpayers to pay up to $250 million of the total cost of dam removal, which is projected to be about $450 million.
Just after the KBRA extension was approved, PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely told the Siskiyou Daily News, “The company continues to believe that the Klamath hydro agreement is the best of our available choices for our nearly 600,000 ratepayers in Oregon and Northern California.”
Critics argue that it’s not realistic to assume that cash-strapped Californians will approve a $250 million dollar water bond to cover a private company’s expenses when government services like education are being slashed.
Chichizola said, “It’s a delaying tactic. Every year they stall, they get to run their dams without any environmental regulations.”
“If the FERC process went forward, they’d have to put in fish ladders and make other improvements,” Chichizola said. “It would be cheaper for them to dismantle the dams.”
The FERC relicensing process is on hold while the linked KBRA and KSHA are in effect.
Supporters of the agreements with PacifiCorp disagreed with the idea that the FERC process would ever lead to removal of the dams or the restoration of the Klamath River.
Tucker said, “It’s difficult to get a dam removed through the FERC process. It’s never been done in America without the agreement of the dam owner.”
“Without the KBRA, I don’t know where the tens of millions of dollars for restoration would come from,” Tucker said.