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New Klamath Basin Agreement: More of the Same?

November 14, 2008

Salem, OR - Four dams on the Klamath River will remain in place, at least until the year 2020 and perhaps longer, despite an agreement this week that's supposed to bring about what its supporters are calling "the largest river and salmon restoration effort in the country."

The governors of Oregon and California, along with the U.S. Interior Department and utility PacifiCorp, are touting it as the first step toward dam removal. But whether it's a history-making moment for the Klamath Basin, or another verse in the same old song, depends on who you talk with.

Some conservation groups point out that the fine print gives PacifiCorp plenty of chances to keep the dams in place, and to operate them with minimal oversight while more studies are done. Steve Pedery, conservation director for the group Oregon Wild, says the deal does nothing for water quality or endangered salmon.

"This agreement is essentially a 'get out of jail free' card on those issues. As long as they keep talking about the idea that someday we might reach a deal that actually removes dams, they get to continue with 'business as usual' in the meantime."

Pedery counts himself among the plan's critics, who say it offers no assurances of anything other than continued talks. The document also indicates the need for an additional four years of studies, of an area Pedery says is already well-known for dwindling fish populations, poor water quality and fights among water users.

"I mean, we certainly think that having PacifiCorp on the record that they're willing to consider dam removal is a step forward. But we do need a deal that's really a deal -- not just an agreement to take a bunch of taxpayer dollars and keep talking."

The way Pedery reads the agreement, it does not ensure the dams will be removed, and also requires Congress to allocate $1 billion for another, separate water users' agreement in the Basin. He suspects, in this economy, that's unlikely to pass. However, Governor Kulongoski is in favor of the agreement and says he'll ask the Oregon Legislature to support it. It has been posted on the U.S. Interior Department's Web site, at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR