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New Year Brings New Approach for Klamath Basin Dam Removal

The Iron Gate Dam is one of four slated for removal if all parties agree on amendments to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. (California Trout)
The Iron Gate Dam is one of four slated for removal if all parties agree on amendments to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. (California Trout)
February 5, 2016

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - A plan for the Klamath Basin water-use agreements may have expired in Congress, but at least part of it was resuscitated this week.

The states of Oregon and California, the utility PacifiCorp and two federal agencies, the Commerce and Interior Departments, say they're moving forward to amend the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) to remove four dams in the basin by 2020.

For tribes and sportsmen in the region, it's one more chance to restore native fish runs. Congress couldn't agree on it before last year's session ended, so Klamath Tribes' Chairman Don Gentry says a new approach was needed.

"It's an attempt to keep this in the hands of the states and PacifiCorp and the parties," says Gentry. "The opposition was to federal authorization for dam removal, and so this is basically keeping it out of the hands of the federal government, so it won't require legislation."

Gentry notes it's been almost 100 years since the first dam was built in the region, which cut off migration of salmon and steelhead to the tribes' treaty-rights fishing areas.

Taking out dams is only one phase of a larger, more complex water-rights picture. The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) is the part that expired at the end of December without congressional approval. That leaves all the parties to that agreement facing all the same concerns about how to share a scarce resource.

But Brian Johnson, the Klamath and California director for Trout Unlimited, says they realize they're still in it together.

"For the master water-sharing, nobody really knows how we'll do it," he says. "But irrigators, ranchers, tribes, conservation groups - we all still see a need to work those issues out and believe that cooperatively is better than fighting about it."

He says all parties will also have a chance to weigh in on the dam-removal proposal as it unfolds.

So far, the states and agencies have agreed only to embark on this new path, the details are still to be worked out. No federal money is needed for removing the dams; PacifiCorp and the State of California will cover it.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR