Agreement 'puts more meat on the bones' of previous document
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
The removal of four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River is one step closer to reality as part of the most recent agreement among stakeholders in the region.
The latest version of the deal between power utility PacifiCorp, state and federal agencies and other groups was announced Wednesday, Sept. 30, but it isn't expected to be final until the end of the year.
The Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement builds on a previous deal -- the Agreement in Principle -- among 28 organizations participating in the negotiations. It was announced in November 2008.
"It puts a lot more meat on the bones of what the AIP was," said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, an irrigator group participating in the talks.
Removing the dams would make the river passable to fish, helping to resolve disputes among irrigators, tribes and fishermen who rely on the Klamath Basin, Addington said.
The agreement to remove the dams is expected to be synchronized with yet another deal -- the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, announced in January 2008 -- which seeks to balance competing water uses in the region, he said.
Details of all the agreements have yet to be ironed out, and even once they are finalized, dam removal will still hinge on several studies and compliance with federal environmental laws, Addington said.
"It's going to ultimately be a very long process," he said.
According to the U.S. Interior Department, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement sets forth several provisions:
* Federal agencies will evaluate the impacts of dam removal, such as the possibly deleterious effects of releasing built-up sediment.
* A detailed plan for removing the structures, restoring the sites, disposing of debris and addressing other potential hurdles will be created. The plan would contain a detailed cost estimate.
* Based on this information, the secretary of the Interior Department will decide whether to proceed with dam removal by March 31, 2012. The studies must show that removing the structures will improve fish habitat and benefit the public.
* Costs for removing the dams are capped at $450 million, including $200 million from PacifiCorp rate payers -- mostly in Oregon -- and $250 million from the sale of bonds in California.
* Ownership of the dams and liability for their removal would be transferred from PacifiCorp to a "dam removal entity," which could be the U.S. Interior Department. Under the Agreement in Principle, an Interior Department takeover of the dams was precluded.
* Dam removal is set to begin by the end of 2020.
Though the deal is likely to be tweaked before the negotiating parties sign it, the basic framework will stay the same, said Steve Rothert, California director for American Rivers, a conservation group participating in the talks.
"It identifies the areas that must be addressed," he said. "This is a huge step forward. It really is the deal."
However, not everyone is happy with the negotiations over Klamath Basin issues.
The Klamath Off-Project Water Users group opposes dam removal because it's overly costly to rate payers, and it believes the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement will lead to the end of irrigated agriculture in the region, said Tom Mallams, the group's president.
"That's going to be the result when all this goes through," Mallams said.
The environmental group Oregon Wild, on the other hand, approves of dam removal but thinks the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement guarantees too much water to farmers at the expense of fish, said Sean Stevens, a group spokesman.
"It's imperfect and the real problems lie ahead," said Stevens.