Klamath agreements a ‘first step’

The landmark Klamath agreements signed Wednesday are only one piece of the Basin’s water solution, groups say.

Audubon California commended the deal while pointing out that Klamath wildlife refuges remain without water certainty and adequate water supplies to support migrating waterfowl.

“We’re excited to see the removal of the Klamath River dams, and this is a good first step to addressing some of the problems in the Basin,” said Audubon California Director of Public Policy Michael Lynes. “Unfortunately, today’s deal does not provide anything for the Klamath Basin national wildlife refuges, which provide habitat for 80 percent of the waterfowl along the Pacific Flyway and which have been chronically shorted on water supplies for decades.”

The comment is in response to a Wednesday ceremony in which Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell signed a pact that gave the go-ahead for removing four dams from the Klamath River.

Dams, irrigators

At the Klamath, Calif., ceremony, Jewell and other leaders signed an amended draft of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and another agreement called the Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement. The KHSA calls for removing the J.C. Boyle Dam, Copco 1 and 2 and Iron Gate Dam from the Klamath River. The power agreement helps protect Basin farmers from extra costs or financial impacts that may result from enacting the KHSA.

“One agreement lays out a path toward a history-making project to remove dams and restore a river that is an icon, and a second agreement helps protect the water supply for farmers and ranchers and makes sure they won’t bear new costs because of dam removal,” Democratic Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said in a joint statement.

Now that entities governing the dams and the Klamath watershed have signed in support of dam removal, the last obstacle standing in the way of a free-flowing river is a nod from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Opposition planned

Siskiyou County Supervisor Grace Bennett said she plans to oppose dam removal during FERC’s public comment process.

“We are going to be very vocal,” she said. “This is a real tragedy for the Klamath River and the people who live along the Klamath River in Siskiyou County.”

Siskiyou County Supervisor Brandon Criss said he will also continue opposing dam removal.

“I think the dams have had a proven benefit for the (Basin) farming community,” Criss said.

Klamath Irrigation District (KID) Board Chairman Brent Cheyne said he does not support dam removal, but the KID board has not taken a formal position on the issue.

Dan Keppen, executive director of Family Farm Alliance, said severing dam removal from the controversial Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a now defunct attempt at a Basin-wide water settlement, could provide a new opportunity for the community to band together.

Water certainty, tribal land

“There is certainly more work to be done — to provide long-term certainty over water supply for agriculture, to maintain healthy flows in the river, and to restore land taken from the Klamath Tribes — and Congress will still need to help bring all of these issues to resolution,” Wyden said.

WaterWatch of Oregon Spokesman Jim McCarthy said amending the KHSA is “a major step forward for the health of the Klamath River and the communities of the Klamath Basin.” He said WaterWatch applauds the revived dam removal effort but opposes the power pact.

“This agreement combines a few true win-win elements for farmers and fish with several costly and counterproductive sweetheart deals for Klamath Project agribusiness,” McCarthy said.

Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., a vocal opponent of dam removal, said in a statement that he doesn’t believe the agreements protect agriculture and electric ratepayers.

“Dam removal does nothing to address these issues,” LaMalfa said.

The Klamath County commissioners could not be reached for comment.