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Dam deal advances Bush's Klamath River agenda

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felicep | Nov 17, 2008 02:30 PM

This week the Bush Administration, Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp and the state governments of Oregon and California announced an “Agreement in Principle” to remove four of the five dams on the Klamath River. If all goes according to their plan, removal of four dams would begin in 2020. A fifth dam – Keno in Oregon – would be transferred to the US Bureau of Reclamation.  

Members of three Klamath River tribes and others cheered the agreement even as they wondered why it is necessary to wait until 2020 to begin what promises to be a decade-long dam removal project. But the Hoopa Tribe -- as well as other environmental groups including Friends of the River, the Northcoast Environmental Center and Oregon Wild -- criticized the agreement. Critics say it unnecessarily delays dam removal for more than a decade and does not actually guarantee that they will ever come out.

Major river and fishing groups including American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association have signaled their support for the deal by joining the Bush Interior Department in a letter to the California Water Resources Control Board requesting delay of the Clean Water Certification process which the dams must pass before they can be relicensed. The Clean Water Certification is widely viewed as a hurdle which PacifiCorp could not overcome because of the pollution the dams and reservoirs generate. This includes toxic algae, water temperature inhospitable to salmon and trout and low dissolved oxygen. The poor water quality has been linked to epidemics which kill young salmon and other fish in and below the reservoirs and dams.

The dam removal deal is also being criticized because it would include a controversial water agreement which, if it becomes final, would give irrigators in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project a legislative guarantee that they would be first in line for Klamath River water. Critics say this would make it necessary to lease water from the irrigators in drought years in order to provide river flows needed by salmon and other fish – including threatened Coho salmon. Some Klamath River and salmon advocates see this as unsustainable and a threat to the Public Trust Doctrine which has been used to restore streamflow – most notably in a famous lawsuit involving Mono Lake and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water Authority.

The water deal has also been criticized because it does not provide assurance that the Klamath’s national wildlife refuges will have sufficient water during drought years. Klamath refuges host 80% of Pacific Flyway birds during migration and the largest concentration of wintering Bald Eagles outside Alaska. Non-federal irrigators could also be asked to give up more water for fish in order to make up for the water irrigators in the federal Klamath Project are not supplying. Some of these non-federal irrigators criticized the deal announced last week.

The dam deal calls for a cost-benefit analysis by the federal government. If the feds decide that the cost of dam removal exceeds benefits, the dams would not come down and the entire process of seeking a license to operate the dams would begin again. There are several other conditions which could nix dam removal in the dozen or so years between a final agreement and demolition. Critics say this would allow PacifiCorp to manipulate the process to avoid dam removal indefinitely.

Dam removal would also depend on the State of California coming up with $250 million in water bond money to finance part of the removal. Another $200 million would come from PacifiCorp’s electric customers. A consumer advocacy group has criticized charging electric customers for dam removal and one commentator has suggested that Governor Schwarzenegger is supporting Klamath dam removal as an inducement to voters to approve bond financing for two new dams and reservoirs in the Sacramento Valley as well as a controversial canal to move northern California water around the Sacramento River Delta to corporate irrigators and cities in southern California.   

The linked dam and water deals are likely the last attempt by the Bush Administration to lock in its vision of how to end conflict over water in the Klamath River Basin. That vision would return those who get water from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project to the head of the line for Klamath water in exchange for a promise of dam removal in the future. It has been effective in splitting the coalition of tribes, environmental, river and fishing groups which previously stood together for restoration of the Klamath River and recovery of Klamath Salmon.

Some Klamath watchers wonder why this vision for the Klamath is being backed now when Bush is about to leave office. They say the Klamath River, Klamath salmon and the Klamath refuges would get a better deal from the Obama Administration.

The above from an American Indian Viewpoint
Ray M. Martin
Ray M. Martin
Nov 18, 2008 08:48 AM
I'd like to start this comment by commending you for a very well written and informative post. Many in the local community of where the dams are to come down have started to sing and dance as if the dams coming down were already a done deal. I also like that your post talks about the politics behind the potential removal of the dams on the Klamath. Your second to last paragraph were you write "That vision would return those who get water from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project to the head of the line for Klamath water in exchange for a promise of dam removal in the future. It has been effective in splitting the coalition of tribes, environmental, river and fishing groups which previously stood together for restoration of the Klamath River and recovery of Klamath Salmon." is particularly good as you point out the dangers in accepting this deal from the Bush administration when the coalition could wait only a few months as your point out in the next paragraph and get potentially a better deal from the new Obama administration. Overall I like your article but I do find it to be lacking as it gives almost no coverage to the group of people that the dams have harmed the most, the American Indian tribes of the region, in particular the Yurok tribe.

You write about the problems the dams cause saying "he pollution the dams and reservoirs generate. This includes toxic algae, water temperature inhospitable to salmon and trout and low dissolved oxygen. The poor water quality has been linked to epidemics which kill young salmon and other fish in and below the reservoirs and dams." but then you leave out what the effects that the loss of the salmon has had on the Indians of the region. The loss of the fish has been catastrophic for the tribes. It has resulted in a loss of culture as they are no longer able to fish as they had for thousands of years and can no longer use the rivers for their religious ceremonies. The Yurok also have lost a major source of food and revenue as many depend on the fish for money either by selling their excess fish or through working in the local economy which is in part dependent on the sports fishermen who come by the thousands every summer to fish one of America's greatest rivers. I think that it would add more to your article if you at least mentioned even in passing the negative impact that the dams have had on the American Indians that call the region home.
A dam deal that isn't
Steve Pedery
Steve Pedery
Nov 18, 2008 10:57 AM
Amid the hype about the "deal" (really an agreement to keep talking about reaching an agreement, in exchange for all pressure on Pacificorp being dropped) it appears very few reporters have actually read the document they are reporting on, or had an attorney explain to them what the language actually does.

Rather than a road map for dam removal, the AIP is like a highway with 5 off ramps and no through lane. Pacificorp has been given numerous opportunities to abandon the process, and in exchange the states of California and Oregon and the Bush administration are dropping the Clean Water Act permitting process on the dams and giving Pacificorp "take" protection under the Endangered Species Act to continue killing coho salmon. Rather than a dam removal plan, this is a plan to lock in the status quo on the river for at least another decade.

No clean up of Pacificorp's toxic algae. No steps to improve dam operations to reduce their impact on salmon or other fish.

To top it off, as Felice noted the "deal" is contingent on Congress passing legislation that enforces the Bush-backed "Klamath Restoration Agreement," which requires $1 billion from federal taxpayers at a time when the national economy is in the tank. Worse, it also requires Congress to lock in Klamath River water flows that are lower than what scientists tell us salmon need during drought years, and commercial agricultural development for another 50 years on the two most important National Wildlife Refuges in the Western United States. These refuges and their wetlands should be the lungs of the Klamath River, cleaning up water before it enters the Klamath. Instead they are managed for agribusiness, and contribute pesticides and fertilizers to the toxic soup coming out of the Klamath Irrigation Project.

It has been heartbreaking to see how effectively the Bush administration has used the desire for dam removal as a wedge to split Tribes, conservationists, and fisherman. Without the benefit of a strong pro-salmon alliance, we are left with people cheering for a "deal" that benefits agribusiness and Pacificorp, while harming the very salmon and wildlife its backers claim to want to protect.

Ray, your observations of how Native American communities have suffered as a result of the declines of salmon are well taken. The Hoopa Valley Tribe has been a strong advocate of good science in these negotiations, calling for the full range of actions needed to restore salmon (remove dams, improve river flows, reduce pollution). They have opposed the Bush-backed “Klamath Restoration Agreement” because it sacrifices river flows and undercuts Tribal water rights. Unfortunately, the consultants representing other Tribes in the Basin have not held to the same principled positions.
Comment on Dam Removal
John M. Sully
John M. Sully
Nov 18, 2008 02:18 PM
Reading the Bush administration proposal for removal of the dams on the Klamath River is like smelling a skunk in my backyard! It reeks to high heaven. It is the last gasp of a dying administration attempting to benefit its heirs. IT SHOULD BE REJECTED OUT OF HAND!
Klamath Dams
craig tucker
craig tucker
Nov 19, 2008 12:51 PM
Last week's announcement marks significant progress in the fight to remove dams on the Klamath River. Although the Agreement in Principle has significant flaws and remains incomplete, we witnessed dam owner PacifiCorp stating that dam removal is indeed in their customers best interest. We also heard Sec Kempthorne state that on the Klamath, dam removal is in the public interest. The Karuk Tribe along with the Yurok and Klamath Tribes, conservation, fishing and farm groups will now work with the incoming Obama Administration on reaching a final agreement that puts the river and its people first.

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