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Klamath Settlement Parties Sign On Dotted Line

February 17, 2010

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Two historic agreements on long-standing issues in the Klamath Basin area at the California-Oregon border will be signed this week. They are expected to end years of legal disputes over water rights and river health in the region, and will also step up plans to remove four dams on the Klamath River.

Even after the signing ceremony, there's a lot to be done, from Congressional approval to review by the Public Utility Commissions of both California and Oregon. Steve Rothert, California director for the group American Rivers, says the lengthy negotiations are necessary because of the size and scope of the project.

"This will be the largest dam removal and river restoration effort ever undertaken, even around the world; I have tried to find other projects that match this project, but nothing does. The restoration of the Everglades in Florida comes close."

American Rivers is one of more than two dozen groups and agencies that took part in the negotiations. Rothert sees the project as the start of a new future for the region. The State of California, and PacifiCorp power customers in both states, will be responsible for sharing the costs if studies confirm that the dams should come out, an investment he says will pay off.

"The increase in rates that California and Oregon customers of PacifiCorp will see through the dam removal process is actually significantly less of an increase than they would see if the dams were kept in place, because it would cost so much money to update those dams for safety and environmental reasons."

Rothert is confident the outcome will be positive for the local economy and for endangered salmon and wildlife. He acknowledges, however, that not all groups involved in the years of negotiations stayed at the table or agree with the findings.

Under the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, the target date for dam removal work to begin is 2020, although Rothert says it could be earlier. A separate Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement covers water quality and allocation, and habitat restoration. The signing ceremony takes place on Thursday, February 18, in Salem, Oregon.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CA