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Un-dam the Klamath deal struck

Hold applause until 2012

By: Allie Hostler

November 19, 2008

If you follow the Klamath River about 200 miles from its ocean outlet, you will meet a 173-foot wall of cement, Iron Gate Dam. Above it are several more.

If you follow the paper trail behind the dams, you will have a stack likely as tall. The newest addition: A dam removal deal between the federal government, California, Oregon and PacifiCorp, the Oregon-based multi-million dollar energy company that owns and operates four of the hydroelectric dams.

If the deal makes it through a two stage process of evaluation and decommissioning, the project will be the largest dam decommissioning project in world history.

Supporters call the deal a milestone. Craig Tucker works as the Klamath Campaign Coordinator for the Karuk Tribe. "Five years ago people laughed at the thought of dam removal, now it's actually being considered," he said.

Opponents warn against excitement. Greg King from the Arcata-based Northcoast Environmental Center said the deal will allow PacifiCorp to escape from its obligations to clean up the river and protect endangered species. It also leaves plenty of "off-ramps" for the company to abandon dam removal at just about any time between now and 2020.

But Tucker is optimistic. He has a goal to celebrate an un-dammed Klamath River by rafting from the headwaters to the sea on his son's 18th birthday. His son is 6 years old now.

The past several years have been tenuous in Klamath River communities. Government and corporate offices are under the gun. Some believe the government is trying to solve the many problems on the Klamath River. Others charge the government with dodging responsibility for the River's sad state while looking out for corporate interests.

Salmon numbers have quickly dwindled to dangerously low numbers and toxic blue-green algae (microcystin) lethally contaminates Klamath River reservoirs and the water below them. A slough of problems affecting river communities have resulted, and everybody blames the dams.

Klamath Riverkeeper Outreach Director Malena Marvin says her organization has served as a watchdog of PacifiCorp.

"After all the work we've put in advocating for removal of these dams, it feels good to hear the words 'dam removal' come out of PacifiCorp headquarters," she said. Marvin warned about celebrating too early.

"We won't throw our party until we see the Final Agreement. Tribal members, fishermen, conservationists, and local people have logged a lot of miles fighting for this river. We're not about to stop until we see the water flowing free again."

So get rid of them, right? It's not that easy.

The Deal

The 32-page deal, officially titled the Agreement in Principle, sets the stage for dam removal by 2020. It was announced as the first critical step down a presumptive path toward a historic resolution of Klamath River resource issues by the Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kepmpthorne.

Four parties must sign on: The United States of America, the state of California, the state of Oregon and PacifiCorp CEO Greg Able. Kempthorne, representing the U.S., has already signed. The parties have until June 30, 2009 to hammer out a finalized agreement.

Once finalized, stage one begins. Scientific and engineering studies will be conducted to determine the cost and impact of the dam removal. Federal legislation and state ballot measures must be introduced and passed to approve the $450 million project. PacifiCorp customers will foot $200 million and California voters will be asked to pass a $250 million bond measure.

Stage two is the actual decommissioning of the dams and their facilities.

In the mean time, PacifiCorp is once again granted delays in complying with its 50-year license which expired in 2005. Their application for a clean water permit through the California Water Control Board (reported in the Oct. 29, 2008 issue of the Lumberjack) is also postponed.

Tom Schlosser is an attorney hired by the Hoopa Tribe 28 years ago to help defend tribal water rights. "The deal is really an agreement to decide in four years whether or not to remove the dams," Schlosser said.

Supporters of the deal, like Tucker, admit there are problems with the document. "The agreement has flaws. There are compromises on both ends," Tucker said.

"No one is getting everything they want."

Greg King of the Northcoast Environmental Center thinks the deal is a Bush administration ploy to lock up real progress toward actual removal of the dams. "While the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement represents a Bush giveaway to big ag, the Klamath Agreement in Principle represents an even bigger Bush gift to big energy," King wrote in an editorial published Saturday in the Times-Standard.

The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement-between fishermen, Tribes, irrigators and environmental groups-is a 200-plus page document that outlines a billion dollar plan for water use and allocation should the dams come down. It still hinges on the dam removal deal.

Back at the Northcoast Environmental Center, King said opponents have come to expect shams from the Bush administration. "We can certainly expect better from Obama, who should be allowed to help solve one of the nation's most critical river issues," he said.

During a press conference call Thursday, the deal may have been mistaken for a business deal among friends rather than the government making an announcement. Twenty minutes of the 45-minute call was spent giving praises to each other. Kempthorne thanked Kulongoski. Schwarzenegger's representative thanked Kempthorne and they all thanked PacifiCorp enormously.

"I treasure our friendship," Kempthorne said to Greg Able, CEO of PacifiCorp. "I'm grateful to have the opportunity to work so closely with such a progressive company."

The Bush administration appointed Kempthorne Secretary of the Interior following the resignation of Gale Norton. Kempthorne is the former governor of Idaho who staunchly opposed dam removal under any conditions.

When asked by the Wall Street Journal during the call why he changed his position on dam removal, Kempthorne said, each situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

"In this case we asked, what can we do to help [PacifiCorp] make a good business decision?"

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