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 The voice of California's rivers

Klamath “Agreement In Principle” Does Not A Dam Removal Deal Make

November 13, 2008 - Federal and state agencies have negotiated an agreement in principle with PacifiCorp that could eventually lead to the removal of four hydroelectric dams and the restoration of the Klamath River’s once bountiful runs of salmon and steelhead. The actual agreement did not become available to all Klamath settlement stakeholders until the afternoon of November 12 when members of the Klamath Settlement Group received a briefing from state and federal officials and PacifiCorp. The agreement has not been approved by numerous other stakeholders, including Friends of the River, who have been involved in the federal relicensing of the Klamath River hydro dams for several years. It remains purely a product produced and endorsed by a sub-set of parties.

In summary, the “non-binding” agreement in principle could lead to the removal of the dams sometime after 2020 if a number of conditions are met.

These conditions include:
  • Full protection for PacifiCorp from all liability.
  • Placing a $200 million cap on dam removal costs to be covered by Oregon and California ratepayers.
  • A commitment from the State of California to provide $250 million in dam removal costs through a water bond to be approved by state voters.
  • A commitment to attempt federal legislation  to authorize and fund the controversial $1 billion Klamath Basin settlement deal, which would provide water and power guarantees to Klamath Basin farmers.
  • Agreement by the states to forego exercising their 401 permitting authority under the Clean Water Act to reduce polluted discharge from the dams.
  • State legislation bypassing the authority of the respective state utility commissions concerning ratepayer cost recovery.
  • Puting the FERC relicensing process on hold until a federal study is completed by 2012 that will determine whether the benefits of dam removal justify the costs.
Concerns:

Although Friends of the River believes that a concession in writing from PacifiCorp to remove the dams is a step in the right direction, we have significant concerns about the workability of the agreement in principle. Foremost, the agreement in principle has so many prerequisites that MUST occur before dam removal can happen  that it would likely never result in the removal of any dams.

Protecting PacifiCorp from all liability and requiring the states to relieve themselves of their Clean Water Act and public utility rate recovery authority is not good public policy and is likely to eliminate any leverage the states may have in the future if the deal falls through. In addition, the incoming Obama Administration may have an entirely different view of this agreement than the current Bush Administration.

Other problems with the agreement include that California will likely rely on a proposed water bond to be approved by the voters in 2009 to provide the $250 million for river restoration. Conservationists will oppose this water bond if it also includes billions of dollars to build new or enlarge existing dams in California. Coupled with the fact that voters may be leery of approving a multi-billion bond as the state economy continues to melt down, the prospect of the state to meet its obligation under the agreement seems shaky. In addition, the agreement in principle does not spell out who will be responsible for dam removal costs above and beyond the $450 million that would supposedly be covered by ratepayers and the State of California.

The assumption that the federal government will come through with the legislation and authorizations needed to implement the Klamath Basin settlement is also questionable. Congressional approval of similar legislation to implement the San Joaquin River restoration settlement agreement has run into a buzz-saw of last minute opposition and it seems likely, given the stated opposition of many groups in Oregon and California, that any Klamath Basin settlement legislation would be subject to similar attacks.

It is unclear whether interim operations measures adopted after the final agreement is signed in June 2009 will be sufficient to reduce pollution in the Klamath River and adequately protect salmon and steelhead.  But these are the measures that will be in place until the dams are actually removed.

The federal and state agencies hope to come to a final agreement with PacifiCorp in June 2009. The process will include other stakeholders moving forward, but in what capacity is still undetermined at this time.

Friends of the River will continue to be involved in this complicated and controversial process to achieve its goal of restoring the Klamath River.

For more information, contact:

Kelly Catlett: (916) 442-3155 x223, Email: kelly@friendsoftheriver.org
Steve Evans: (916) 442-3155 x221, Email: sevans@friendsoftheriver.org

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