Klamath Dam Removal May Proceed Without KBRA

Settlement Dies in Congress, New Strategy Brings Stakeholders Back to the Drawing Board

By MALCOLM TERENCE, Two Rivers Tribune Contributing Writer

Published February 16, 2016 in Volume 22, Issue 7

The owner of four Klamath River hydroelectric dams along with the Department of Interior and the states of Oregon and California signed an Agreement in Principal on February 2, a formal, but non-binding document that declares their intention to work with the parties of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) to amend the KHSA in order to facilitate the removal of four dams on the Klamath River.The initiative by the Department of Interior, the states and the dam owner may accomplish the action most important to Tribes, conservationists and fishermen, but pays limited attention to the water access issues most important to upper basin farmers and irrigators.

One of the settlement agreements was the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA ). Some believed the KBRA would have balanced water use between irrigators and fisheries and provided money for water conservation and habitat restoration along the whole river. Others believed that the KBRA did not guarantee enough water for fisheries restoration and stripped tribes of their senior water rights.

The KBRA’s partner agreement, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), focuses primarily on the dam removal portion of the broader pact.

The KBRA expired at the end of 2015, but the KHSA continues. It had the same signatories as the KBRA but four of them, the United States, states of Oregon and California and PacifiCorp, the owner of the dams, committed to modify the KHSA in an Agreement in Principle (AIP) issued on February 2.

Jared Huffman represents the North Coast in the House of Representatives and he says the new moves to enforce the KHSA as a standalone solution reflect a failure of the Republican leadership in the House to introduce legislation to support both agreements—KBRA and KHSA.

He said this new initiative is supported by the Yurok Tribe, the Hoopa Tribe and the Karuk Tribe as well as Humboldt County and the Pacific Coast

Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. He added that he called for the Tribes, environmental groups and the other supporters to be fully involved in “any such future agreements.”

Last week Tom Schlosser, attorney for the Hoopa Tribe, said it had not yet been invited to the table for discussions of any updating of the KHSA and the tribe had protested. Hoopa did not sign the KBRA because the Tribe felt it failed to provide enough water for salmon survival and compromised critical tribal water rights. They did not sign the KHSA because they weren’t allowed to sign one agreement and not the other.

On Monday, after the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Chairman, Ryan Jackson, spoke with Interior officials over the weekend, an invitation arrived to participate in the negotiations.

“We agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement,” Jackson said. “We will be fully participating in upcoming meetings in Portland.”

The current strategy would bypass Congress and go directly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to allow dam removal. Schlosser said, “It’s great that the parties have come around to the Hoopa point of view that we needed to go straight to the FERC.”

Jackson said the Tribe was “pleased to see that the main parties agree that the Tribe’s long-held view that dam removal should move forward separately from other basin issues that have created controversy in Congress.”

Leaf Hillman, director of the Karuk Department of Natural Resources, said, “Removal of the lower four Klamath River dams would be the single greatest salmon restoration in U.S. history. We hoped to implement a more ambitious plan to resolve Klamath water disputes between fishing and farming communities, but Congressional Republicans blocked our efforts. This (approach) lays out a strategy that does not require congressional approval or federal funding.”

U.S. Rep. Gregg Walden represents Oregon’s upper basin. In a reaction to the KHSA standalone initiative, he said, “Months ago we determined that PacifiCorp did not need Congressional approval to remove its dams, despite years of saying it did. That’s why our draft legislation did not include dam removal, but did provide for implementation of the other settlement agreements. I was working to find a legislative package that could move in Congress.”

Two months earlier, Rep. Walden angered river restoration proponents when he floated draft legislation that guaranteed water and cheap power for farmers, specifically did not authorize dam removal, gave 100,000 acres of National Forest land each to Klamath and Siskiyou Counties and 100,000 acres to the Klamath Tribes in exchange for their senior water rights.

Walden pledged to continue to work with stakeholders “to achieve a long lasting and balanced settlement for the Klamath Basin that is sustainable for our farm and ranch economy.”

The KHSA standalone approach to dam removal is particularly frustrating to the upper basin irrigators because it does not expressly cover their access to water.

Greg Addington has worked for at least a decade representing the Klamath Water Users Association on the settlement negotiations that led to the KBRA. He said that all along the other parties to the talks have wanted to work out all the issues, that is water sharing as well as dam removal.

“Congress didn’t act and that put us in a difficult spot,” he said. “The big prize for us is water security and for the others it’s dam removal. For a decade we’ve been careful to keep things balanced. At some level we’re frustrated (by the new developments) but we can’t be looking backward. Water users are resolute to have peace on the river but they don’t want to be walked on.”

Craig Tucker, Natural Resources Policy Advocate for the Karuk Tribe, said, “The irrigators do feel like they’re being left behind, a failure of Walden to move legislation. At the end of the day, we do need to sort out the conflicting needs with irrigators. Otherwise, we duke it out in the court system and the only winners are the lawyers.”

Questioned about the effects of drought, Tucker said the data about flows are based on historic records, but recent years have had abnormally low precipitation and almost no snowpack. He said California was plumbed with 20th Century water supplies, but a longer perspective suggests that it was a particularly wet period in the state’s history.

Tucker also said he expected that there would be opposition from factions that have long opposed dam removal under any terms.

He added a defense of the long-running settlement talks that led to the KBRA, saying, “we would not be where we are if we had not traveled the road we traveled. If we had not gone to Scotland and to Omaha, if we had not negotiated with the other side, we would not have $450 million on the table for removal, we would not have had the requirement for fish ladders that ran up the costs of relicensing.”

A joint statement released by the federal Department of Interior, both states and the dam owner PacifiCorp said that although the present momentum is focused on dam removal, that they are actively working with all the stakeholders “on a comprehensive resolution to restore the basin, advance the recovery of its fisheries, uphold trust responsibilities to the Tribes and sustain the region’s farming and ranching heritage.”

The target date for signing of the amended KHSA is February 29 and the target date for dam removal remains the year 2020, the same date planned in the earlier agreements.

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