Draft bill on Klamath Basin does not include dam removal at hydroelectric facilities

Draft legislation released on Dec. 3 by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, (R-Ore.), is a proposal to resolve disputes about water and fish passage issues in the Klamath Basin. But, the draft does not include provisions to remove dams at four PacifiCorp hydroelectric facilities, a central point in the 2010 Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA).

The 2010 KHSA provides the framework for potential removal of four PacifiCorp dams that are part of hydroelectric projects on the Klamath River in the Klamath Basin that straddles Oregon and California. The hydroelectric schemes of which the dams are part include the 98-MW J.C. Boyle, 20-MW COPCO 1, 27-MW COPCO 2 and 18-MW Iron Gate.

Walden’s draft, ‘‘Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2015,’’ does not authorize or fund federal dam removal. The proposal places the onus of dam removal on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Congress must pass legislation to allow dam removal, but for years House Republicans have blocked any type of legislation they think could set precedent for dam removal. The agreements expire at the end of December.

Several parties to the 2010 KHSA said the lack of a dam removal provision in Walden’s draft bill makes the bill a non-starter. They say the dams thwart salmon migration, degrade water quality, alter water flows and contribute to fish disease problems.

“If there is no dam deal, there is no damn deal,” said Josh Saxon, a councilman with the Karuk Tribe.

Three federally-recognized tribes depend on salmon for subsistence and ceremonial needs, and a fourth hopes fish will return once the dams are removed. One of the tribes already has obtained water rights through the courts, and the others could pursue that process, further limiting water to irrigators.

Don Gentry, the chairman of the Klamath Tribal Council, said there’s significant concern about where legislation without dam removal would leave the tribe.

“When we voted for the agreements…that vote included dam removal,” Gentry said.

PacifiCorp is a signatory to the agreements and supports dam removal, because removal would be less costly to the utility than rehabilitating and upgrading each project’s infrastructure.

The utility is also concerned about liability when it comes to the impact of dam removal. The historic agreements shield PacifiCorp from such liability.

Walden is a staunch dam removal opponent; his Oregon district includes one of the dams. His draft legislation does include the transfer of 100,000 acres of public federal forestland for timber production to Siskiyou County and Klamath County. That provision was not included in the historic agreements.

In addition, the draft also calls for the transfer of 100,000 acres of public forestland to the Klamath Tribes in return for water for farmers. Under the original settlement agreement, the Klamath Tribes were promised private forestland — part of the tribes’ former reservation — but that land has since been sold to a Singapore, Thailand-based company.

Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley called the draft “a step forward,” but said it falls short of implementing the carefully-negotiated agreements.

“The giveaway of federal lands to counties is a known non-starter in the Senate,” the senators said in a joint statement on the draft. “It also eliminates a provision on dam removal that is central to the bargain worked out over years with blood, sweat and tears.”

Wyden and Merkley introduced their own bill earlier this year to put the Klamath agreements into play, including dam removal. The two said they’ll work with colleagues in the House to refine Walden’s proposal.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for HydroWorld.com.

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