Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers

by WaterWatch of Oregon
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers
Protect and Restore Free Flowing Oregon Rivers

Project Report | May 25, 2023
Federal Regulator Says Four Lower Klamath Dams May Come Down

By Jim McCarthy | Southern Oregon Program Director

Iron Gate Dam, one of the four Klamath dams
Iron Gate Dam, one of the four Klamath dams

In November 2022, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted final approval for decommissioning the lower four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River near the OregonCalifornia line. The decision marked the end of two decades of advocacy, politics, and bureaucratic processes surrounding this hydro complex. It is hoped that the smallest of the four dams, Copco 2, will come down this summer, and that the other three dams will follow to open over 350 miles of habitat closed to native salmon and steelhead since 1918 in violation of tribal treaty rights and common sense.

Klamath dam removal presents a major opportunity to restore important but dwindling fish runs vital to the region, Native American tribes, and coastal communities. This year, as in many other past years, a Klamath salmon collapse sparked a coastwide salmon fishing disaster, causing tens of millions of dollars of lost economic activity, millions of pounds of lost seafood production, thousands of lost jobs, and the loss of world class recreational opportunities. However, dam removal alone cannot restore the Klamath and end the region’s woes. Restoration will require other essential steps. These include providing adequate stream flows and lake levels to support abundant salmon and other native fish, improving fish passage at Keno Dam and other dams upstream of the soon former hydro complex or removing these structures, protecting and restoring depleted groundwater reserves, and reclaiming converted wetlands to recover aquatic habitat and natural water storage while improving water quality. WaterWatch continues to advocate in public, in the legislature, and in the courts for these essential steps towards the Klamath’s sustainable future.

WaterWatch began working towards Klamath dam removal well before PacifiCorp’s hydropower license expired in March 2006. Years before, we joined with Oregon Wild and others to publicly expose and end an exclusive electric pumping subsidy funneling some $10 million per year to Klamath agribusiness at the expense of PacifiCorp’s other ratepayers. These powerful interests had succeeded in connecting this subsidy politically to PacifiCorp’s federal hydropower license when it was last renewed in 1956. In 2006, Klamath agribusiness intended to quietly extend this lucrative and water-wasteful subsidy 30 to 50 years into the future alongside another federal license for the Klamath dams. In this situation, WaterWatch believed ending the pumping subsidy would not only improve water use efficiency in the Klamath, but would also remove a substantive reason for powerful agribusiness interests to support relicensing the Klamath dams.

By April 2006, WaterWatch and our allies had convinced the Oregon Public Utility Commission to rule against the subsidy after a months-long proceeding. The state legislature, over WaterWatch’s objections, then provided Klamath agribusiness a generous multi-year subsidy offramp period paid for by other Oregon utility ratepayers. With the subsidy question resolved in favor of river restoration, WaterWatch and Oregon Wild returned to the PacifiCorp dam relicensing negotiations advocating for our preferred alternative: a standalone deal to remove the four lower dams. Unfortunately over the next 2 years the George W. Bush administration took over as mediators in these talks. They excluded WaterWatch against our will due to our opposition to the Bush Administration’s Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), which required dam removal wait until Congress passed the bloated and unworkable $1 billion KBRA package favoring agribusiness at the expense of taxpayers, fish, and National Wildlife Refuges. WaterWatch joined Hoopa Valley Tribe and others to defeat the KBRA by 2015. Unfortunately, by then the KBRA had delayed dam removal longer than even PacifiCorp could have hoped. Generally, utilities can expect to delay federal relicensing decisions for 12 years while using interim annual licenses. Klamath was ultimately delayed 17 years. Fortunately, by 2016 a standalone dam removal agreement moved forward. WaterWatch is gratified this long-sought goal for many in the Klamath is within sight.

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WaterWatch of Oregon

Location: Portland, Oregon - USA
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Project Leader:
Neil Brandt
Portland , Oregon United States
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