WaterWatch of Oregon Applauds Advance of Klamath Dam Removal

For Immediate Release
February 2, 2016

Jim McCarthy 541-708-0731
John DeVoe, 503-295-4039 x1

WaterWatch of Oregon Applauds Advance of Klamath Dam Removal
Long-Delayed Restoration Effort No Longer Held Hostage to Failed Water Agreement

Today, WaterWatch applauded Oregon and California’s elected leaders and the Obama Administration for prioritizing the agreement to remove the four lower Klamath River dams, and urged speedy resolution of a stand-alone final agreement. Removal of these four obsolete hydro dams will be a major step forward for the health of the Klamath River and the communities of the Klamath Basin.

“These dams cause profound damage to salmon populations and water quality in the Klamath River,” said Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch’s Communications Director and Southern Oregon Program Manager. “Their removal will be a boon for the many communities which depend upon the Klamath River’s invaluable resources, help fulfill Native American fishing rights throughout the basin, and protect thousands of commercial and recreational salmon fishing jobs.”

“WaterWatch has long advocated for a stand-alone Klamath dam removal deal unhindered by linkage to federal legislation, and are gratified to see this extremely positive step announced today,” said WaterWatch Executive Director John DeVoe. “We are in no way diminishing the pressing need for comprehensive water settlement in the basin, one that finally meets the needs of rivers, fish, and wildlife refuges. But if we’ve learned anything from the gridlock in the Klamath over the last five years, it’s that we need to compartmentalize to get this important work done.”

Klamath dam removal had remained stalled for years by unnecessary linkage to federal legislation to implement the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a wildly expensive and controversial water deal that had divided the basin’s Native American tribes, conservationists, and agricultural community. Congress then held dam removal hostage by failing to act on the agreement, which expired in 2015.

“Going forward, WaterWatch urges our elected leaders to advance a stand-alone dam removal deal separate from any water agreement or other federal legislation,” added McCarthy. “We also urge Oregon’s U.S. Senators Wyden and Merkley not to propose any new electrical power subsidies for upper Klamath Basin irrigators. There would be no public policy purpose for this subsidy. It would provide an unfair competitive advantage over other nearby farmers and ranchers who just happen not to own lands in the Klamath Irrigation Project or Klamath County, and encourages wasteful power use as well as wasteful water use as this power is used to pump water.”

Past subsidized power rates in the Klamath contributed to the basin’s water crisis and also made it economical to drain wetlands on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges for harmful commercial farming on refuge land. WaterWatch continues to have serious concerns over water supply for Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges, which have seen repeated waterfowl die-offs in recent years due in large part to water management decisions.

“We call on Interior Secretary Jewell to help the Klamath refuges now without Congressional action,” added DeVoe. “To stop repeated Klamath waterfowl die-offs due to water scarcity, she should direct the Klamath’s National Wildlife Refuges to use their most senior water rights for refuge habitat, instead of devoting this water to pesticide-intensive commercial crops on refuge lands.”

Any real solution to the Klamath’s longstanding water woes will require basin-wide, comprehensive, and voluntary water use reduction, including some downsizing of the Klamath Irrigation Project and the permanent retirement of other water rights throughout the basin.