Un-Dam the Klamath – Background

DirtyDam-WEBIn September 2002, a tragedy gave birth to a historic movement to un-dam and restore the Klamath River. More than 60,000 Klamath River salmon died after the federal government ignored recommendations of their own scientists and limited water releases into the river. This tragedy united tribal, conservation, and fishing communities in pursuit of dam removal and more balanced water allocation.

Within this growing movement, Klamath Riverkeeper plays a unique and critical role. Klamath Riverkeeper’s legal actions and policy work made it impossible for dam owner PacifiCorp to obtain a 401 Clean Water Act certificate (a requirement of dam re-licensing) without reducing toxic algae levels behind their dams. This effectively prevented PacifiCorp from escaping the cost of Clean Water Act compliance, and helped compel them to embrace dam removal. Our advocacy also helped compel the California and Oregon Public Utilities Commissions to fund dam removal. And, we helped secure strong Clean Water Act pollution limits in both the California and Oregon portions of the Klamath River.

In February 2010, after years of arduous negotiations, litigation, and policy advocacy, more than forty stakeholder groups — including PacifiCorp, tribal governments, conservation organizations, and state and federal agencies — signed the historic Klamath Settlement Agreements. The settlement agreements consisted of two separate but complementary agreements for dam removal and large-scale restoration — the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

While Klamath Riverkeeper has supported the Klamath Settlement Agreements, we did not sign them. This has allowed us to employ tactics that settlement parties cannot, and will allow us to take additional legal action if necessary to uphold the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.

In 2013, the Federal Government and California released their final joint environmental impact report that recommended dam removal. The report concluded that dam removal and associated restoration projects would create at least 6,000 jobs, increase Chinook salmon production by 81 percent, open 420 miles of historic fisheries habitat, and dramatically reduce toxic algae levels.

Also in 2013, the Klamath Tribes of Oregon won a court victory that allowed them to enforce their water right to protect fisheries resource in the Upper-Klamath Basin. This victory allowed the Klamath Tribes to negotiate a separate agreement with irrigators that turned key opponents of the Klamath Settlement Agreements into supporters. In March 2014 the Klamath Tribes and irrigators reached a water sharing agreement known as the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (UKBA). The UKBA provides a mechanism to achieve water savings detailed in the KBRA, and would prevent future litigation challenging the Klamath Tribes water right for fish.

Federal legislation that is currently pending would implement all three agreements – the UKBA and the two original Klamath Settlement Agreements (KBRA and KHSA). Both Oregon and California Senators support the bill. In December 2014, Greg Walden – an Oregon Congressman whose support is critical – indicated that he may change his stance and support the legislation in 2015.

Although dam-owner PacifiCorp signed and supports the Klamath Settlement Agreements and legislation for dam removal the company is hedging its bets by concurrently applying to re-license its dams. In August 2014, the company submitted an application for a Clean Water Act certificate – a prerequisite to dam re-licensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.