Critical Federal Analysis of Klamath Dam Removal Due Beginning of the Year

By Published On: November 11, 2021

It looks as though the long-awaited environmental impact analysis for a historic removal of four large dams on the Klamath River will come in January. That will be a milestone. After more than two decades of struggle, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s draft impact assessment will be the final hurdle to their removal, freeing 420 miles of river that runs between northern California and southern Oregon that provide sustenance to native tribes.

But even this will not mean the removal is a done deal. But it’s as close to one as you can get, Craig Tucker, Karuk Tribe Natural Resources Policy consultant, told Current. “You have to work pretty hard to get to this point with FERC,” he said.

“Never before have so many large dams been removed from a single river, at one time,” according to the Congressional Research Service. It is also the biggest salmon restoration project.

Last June, federal regulators approved the license transfer from owner PacifiCorp to the nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corp, pursuant to a multi-stakeholder agreement. KRRC was created to handle the dam removals.

The year before, FERC blocked a different change of ownership arrangement involving only KRRC over liability concerns. In response, California and Oregon agreed to be co-licensees. The states threw in another $45 million for liability protection, on top of the $450 million previously allocated.  That includes $200 million from PacifiCorp’s ratepayers.

Back in 2016, more than 45 different stakeholder groups—from PacifiCorp, Karuk and Yurok tribes, public agencies, and agricultural interests reached a deal on taking out the aging dams. Relicensing them was not pursued because the cost of upgrading them was prohibitive. Since 2007, the hydropower facilities have been operating under annual license renewals.

PacifiCorp’s dams represent a 163 MW of capacity but generate far less because of legal protections in place to protect salmon and other native fisheries, decimated by the ongoing drought. Yurok Tribe representative Amy Cordalis told the CPUC in mid-July that the climate-crisis worsened drought and dams “are annihilating native salmon stocks and our livelihood.” She said the salmon run is now a fraction of its historical size, some 1% to 3%.

Until the dams are torn down, they will continue to provide 60 MW of peaking power, PacifiCorp Spokesperson Bob Gravely told Current.

FERC’s EIS will analyze a range of options—from the dam removal in accordance with the multi-party settlement to a no action alternative, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The public will then be invited to comment.

“It will be a fight over who files more comments,” quipped Tucker. But he did note he has had to fight disinformation campaigns, including dispelling the notion that salmon did not historically migrate above the dams, rebutting it with historic photos.

The photo is courtesy of Karuk Tribe

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