U.S. sees Klamath dams removal agreement by September

The U.S. government, the states of California and Oregon, and project licensee PacifiCorp have extended until September a deadline for final agreement on a deal that is expected to remove four dams in the 161.338-MW Klamath hydroelectric project.

“I am pleased that the good faith efforts of the parties to reach common ground in decades-old water conflicts have put a final deal within reach,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said June 30, 2009. “… This final stretch represents a historic opportunity for all parties to pursue their shared interests over the damaging water wars of the past.”

The parties reached agreement in principle in 2008 on historic resolution of Klamath River resource issues and the utility’s Klamath River hydropower dams, 90.338-MW J.C. Boyle, 20-MW Copco 1, 27-MW Copco 2, and 18-MW Iron Gate. (HydroWorld 11/18/08) The full hydroelectric project (No. 2082) features six dams and seven powerhouses.

The deadline for completion of settlement talks had been June 30. The agreement, which has been joined by 22 other stakeholders, would create a local solution that would rebuild the Klamath fishery and sustain agricultural communities who rely on the river, Interior said. Once completed, the pact must be signed by the parties and ratified by Congress.

The agreement in principle provides a flexible framework for transfer of the dams to a government-designated dam removal entity. The Interior secretary would make a final decision on dam removal following an assessment to confirm that dam removal is in the public interest. The total cost of removal is capped at $450 million.

PacifiCorp customers, California bonds would pay removal bill

California and Oregon public utility commissions would impose a surcharge on PacifiCorp customers to raise $200 million toward dam removal costs. In addition, California would seek voter approval of a general obligation bond that would include facilities removal funds of $250 million, to provide the total $450 million needed.

The agreement compels the federal government to scientifically assess the costs and benefits of dam removal. The U.S. is to make a final determination by March 31, 2012, whether the benefits of dam removal justify the costs. The determination would draw from scientific and engineering studies conducted in the interim, and in consultation with state, local, and tribal governments and other stakeholders. At that point, the U.S. would designate the dam removal entity or decline to remove the dams. If dam removal is declined, PacifiCorp would return to federal regulators to relicense the project.

“We remain committed to achieving the best possible balanced and pragmatic outcome for our customers on all sides of these diverse issues,” PacifiCorp President Greg Abel said. “Working together, we are close to a final settlement agreement, but there will be many more significant mileposts along the way.”

Stakeholders are negotiating a Klamath Hydropower Agreement in tandem with a proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

In April, Salazar announced Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation allotted $4 million in economic stimulus package money to broaden scientific knowledge of Klamath River sedimentation. (HydroWorld 4/15/09) That study is to assist management decision-making that could lead to removal of the four dams from the Klamath.

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