Latest Klamath Dam Removal Proposal Delays Decision to Remove Dams


Latest Klamath Dam Removal Proposal Delays Decision to Remove Dams

Joined Agreements Protect Dam Owner and Agribusiness, Leave Fish and Wildlife at Risk

PORTLAND, OR Sep 30, 2009

Portland, OR –WaterWatch of Oregon, an ardent advocate for the removal of four salmon-killing dams on the Klamath River, joined other conservationists in criticizing a final draft dam removal plan announced today. The proposal, released by negotiators from Oregon, California, the U.S. Department of Interior, and dam-owner PacifiCorp, delays the decision on whether to remove any of the four dams until at least 2012, and even if it is decided to remove dams still delays actual removal to some time past 2020. The Department of Interior, Oregon, and California are withholding their decision to remove the dams until years of additional reviews have been completed.

The agreement also requires Congressional approval of the controversy-plagued, nearly billion-dollar Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), an unnecessary obstacle likely to doom the removal accord.  Perhaps most distressing of all, the combined agreements would sacrifice fish, wildlife, national wildlife refuges, and hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars – without assuring dam removal.

“The agreement announced today is not an agreement to remove the Klamath dams, but an agreement to go through a lengthy process to determine whether or not to remove any dams,” said WaterWatch staff attorney Bob Hunter.  “The agreement is riddled with escape routes for the dam owner, and provides no guarantees that the dams will actually come out.”

Experts agree that removing the four lower Klamath dams would be the most effective method of opening access to more than 300 miles of salmon and steelhead habitat, eliminate the river’s toxic algae problems and improve water quality. Dam removal is widely seen as a critical element of any solution to the Klamath Basin’s infamous ecological woes.

“Unfortunately, this agreement suspends the standard legal process for dam removal, and allows PacifiCorp to continue to harm the river for at least the next decade, with no assurance of dam removal at the other end,” said WaterWatch Executive Director John DeVoe.  “The Klamath salmon simply can’t wait.”

The dam removal agreement is linked unnecessarily to the KBRA, and is being inappropriately used to push the KBRA into law. A legacy from the disastrous conservation policies of the Bush administration, the KBRA is laden with sweetheart deals for politically-connected agribusiness interests at the expense of fish, wildlife, national wildlife refuges and the U.S. taxpayer.

The KBRA attempts to lock in a water deal that puts Klamath salmon at risk, including coho salmon listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  The Klamath River is widely known for the catastrophic Klamath salmon kill of 2002, when critically low river flows sparked the largest adult salmon die-off in U.S. history. Incredibly, the KBRA would allow similar salmon-killing low flows to occur in the future, while guaranteeing water deliveries to irrigators.  No agreement has been reached on a drought plan that would prevent a similar fish kill from occurring.

“It makes no sense to open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat just to kill fish with the low river flows allowed under these paired agreements,” said DeVoe. “Even with dam removal, fish will still need water.”

In addition, the KBRA attempts to lock in commercial farming on 22,000 acres on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges for the next 50 years. This harmful program has led to serious declines in two of the crown jewels of America’s national wildlife system.

“To achieve a lasting solution in the Klamath, the harmful leasing of National Wildlife Refuge land for commercial farming must be phased out, not locked in,” explained Hunter. “If these refuge lands were managed for wildlife purposes rather than for growing potatoes and onions, it could reduce irrigation season water demand, increase water supply through natural storage, provide greatly needed wetland habitat, and improve water quality. Commercial farming has its place in the basin, but not on the public’s national wildlife refuges.”

Even if dam removal is achieved, it alone won’t restore the river and its salmon — or bring an end to the Klamath’s conflicts. For many years, WaterWatch has advocated for a sustainable, comprehensive solution that brings water demands back into balance with actual supply and restores wetlands for improved habitat, water quality and natural storage.

“The Klamath has suffered for too long from political manipulation and backroom deals,” concluded Hunter. “We hope Congress will support removing the four lower Klamath dams, but will not sacrifice the river flows needed by salmon, our national wildlife refuges, or our children’s natural heritage in the process. We can do better.”

For more information and analysis on the draft Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, please visit