Klamath Dam Removal Plan on Track

The plan to remove four hydroelectric dams to improve fish passage and water quality on the Klamath River is proceeding on schedule for a 2020 demolition time, according to plan proponents.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will ultimately have to approve or deny the plan, and the change in administration in Washington, D.C., has led to three of the five seats on the commission being vacated. President Donald Trump will be responsible for appointing the three new members, but plan proponents such as the dams’ owning company PacifiCorp, do not believe this will affect the project’s timeline.

Copco 1 dam on the Klamath River is one of four dams to be removed by 2020.

“We don’t know what we’re dealing with until the new commission is in place,” PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said Tuesday. “Our expectation is this will move as a regular administrative order that FERC takes up and deals with all the time. We have no reason to believe it won’t be treated like any other application of its kind.”

Trump administration

Amy Cordalis, legal counsel for one of the plan’s signatories and California’s largest Native American tribe, the Yurok, stated the Trump administration supports “economically beneficial business decisions.”

“The Klamath River dams are owned by PacifiCorp which has determined through extensive analysis that dam removal is the best economic decision for the corporation and its rate payers,” Cordalis wrote in an email to the Times-Standard.

“We are hopeful the administration will support PacifiCorp’s business decision to remove dams.”

The dam removal plan — known as the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement — would be the largest dam removal project in U.S. history, and in that way it will need to jump through several regulatory hoops and agencies at both the state and federal level.

Decommissioning dams

Last year, PacifiCorp submitted an application to the commission to transfer ownership of four dams — J.C. Boyle dam in southern Oregon and the Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2 dams in Siskiyou County — to the newly created private nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which was formed by the signatories of the dam removal agreement. At the same time, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation submitted an application to decommission the four dams by 2020.

The corporation’s Board of Directors President Mike Carrier said they have made significant progress since last year including securing funding agreements with both states and preparing required technical documents. The project will cost about $450 million to complete with PacifiCorp ratepayers in California and Oregon contributing $200 million and California contributing the other $250 million through the Proposition 1 water bond passed by voters in 2014.

KRRC deadline

In order for the plan to be considered by the federal commission, Carrier said the corporation must prove its legal, technical and financial capability to carry out the dam removal. He said the corporation planned to submit this information to the commission Wednesday.

“We need to keep the information flowing in all directions to the public, local communities, to the Congress and the regulators about how the project is going, what its real purpose is, how it’s funded and make sure the folks are well-informed,” Carrier said. “That’s a major priority for this coming year.”

Once this supplemental information is submitted, Carrier said the federal commission will send out a public notice inviting entities to intervene in the process either in support or opposition to the dam removal plan. Carrier said he has yet to see a project go before the commission that has not had interventions, and said this plan would not likely be any different.

Political issue

The dam removal project has proven to be a political issue in the past.

After being drafted in 2010, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement initially attempted to make its way through Congress for approval, but failed because of continued opposition by House Republicans. The plan as well as other related bills to address water sharing between tribes and irrigators in the Klamath River Basin failed to pass through the committee process, causing one of the bills to expire.

The plan was redrafted in early 2016 so that it would instead go through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, though the water sharing agreements have yet to be resurrected.

The new plan must also acquire water quality permits from Oregon and California. The California Water Resources Control Board recently concluded a public comment period Feb. 1 and will now be working to issue a draft environmental impact report by early 2018. Water board Public Information Officer Tim Moran stated the board’s final certification of the project’s water quality certification and environmental review is targeted for 2019.

Moran encourages anyone who would like to receive updates on this water quality certification process to sign up for the “Lower Klamath Project License Surrender” email list under the “Water Rights” section at www.waterboards.ca.gov/resources/email_subscriptions/swrcb_subscribe.shtml

“Dam removal is one of the most important steps toward salmon restoration on the Klamath River and its tributaries, including the Trinity River,” Cordalis wrote to the Times-Standard. “Dam removal coupled with habitat restoration, and improved water quality and quantity, will restore the salmon and other fisheries.”