WASHINGTON, D.C. Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) and Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-1) today jointly introduced the Klamath Basin Economic Restoration Act in the Senate and House. The legislation would implement a comprehensive plan, developed through a multi-year collaborative effort among farmers, ranchers, fishermen, Tribal leaders, and conservationists, to settle one of the nation’s most volatile water wars.  According to an analysis released by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the removal of four dams on the Klamath River would create more than 4,600 jobs in the basin, including hundreds of jobs in fishing and agriculture, while restoring historical habitat for salmon, steelhead and other fish and wildlife.  The legislation is cosponsored in the Senate by California Senator Barbara Boxer. 

“This legislation is proof that through collaboration and hard work we can move beyond the disputes of the past and create a stronger foundation for economic growth,” said Senator Jeff Merkley. “This legislation will provide a brighter future for the Klamath Basin – putting people to work and improving the economy for farmers and fishermen alike.”

“The agreements that are in place represent the best way forward for the Klamath River Basin and its communities – now it is time for Congress to put these agreements into action,” said Thompson. “The dam removals will not only benefit our river basin by restoring fish and wildlife habitats, it will strengthen our economy by creating more than 4,600 jobs.” 

Senator Boxer said, “This bill will implement a carefully crafted plan that will help farmers, fishermen, Native American communities and the environment by restoring the Klamath River Basin. I applaud the leadership of Senator Merkley, Congressman Thompson and all the stakeholders for coming together behind a plan that will strengthen the region’s economy and the environment.”

The Klamath Basin Economic Restoration Act authorizes the implementation of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). The two agreements jointly envision a collaborative approach to natural resource management and economic and environmental restoration. In addition, they settle decades of water rights disputes and other litigation over natural resources in the region.

Specifically, the legislation:

  • Approves both agreements and authorizes the U.S. Department of Interior to sign and implement the KBRA, implement the KHSA and take the necessary steps to move the agreement forward.
  • Changes or establishes federal policy to assist implementation of the agreements
  • Establishes a process to plan for and implement dam removal.

Scientific analysis cited by Interior anticipates significant benefits to commercial salmon fishermen. With removal of the dams, Coho would reclaim 68 miles of historical habitat, steelhead – the Klamath River’s most popular sport fish – would regain 420 miles of historical habitat, and Chinook salmon production would increase by more than 80 percent. All together, eleven coastal counties in Oregon and California would gain more than 400 jobs as a result of improved fishing conditions.

Studies done by the Department of Interior estimate that the reliability of the water supply that would be gained through the legislation would boost gross farm income and add between 70 and 695 jobs annually to the agricultural economy.

Glen Spain, Northwest Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations emphasized, “Our rural communities simply can’t afford to do nothing.  That’s a recipe for another round of catastrophes like the fish kill and irrigation shut-off.  We desperately need Congress to act now.” 

“When disaster hit and litigation got drawn out, we were challenged by elected officials to develop our own solutions to the water crises that have devastated our communities,” said Steve Kandra, a Klamath Basin farmer. “Together we did it and we’re part of a strong and growing constituency that expects our elected officials to seize this opportunity to end the Klamath Crisis.”

Jeff Mitchell, lead negotiator for the Klamath Tribes noted, “This bill is a marked departure from past attempts by one interest group to strong arm another. Instead we’ve set aside ideological debates and focused on protecting everyone’s interests collectively.  It’s exactly the type of win-win policy Congress should embrace.” 

“This legislation represents a significant step forward to resolving the conflict in the Klamath Region and we are extremely grateful for efforts of Congressman Thompson and look forward to working with him to get legislation signed into law,” said Thomas O’Rourke, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “The Yurok Tribe has worked hard to forge relationships and come to agreements that are in the mutual interest of all parties involved. Now, Congress needs to act so we can begin restoring the Klamath River Basin.”

The total cost of removing the dams and embarking on the environmental restoration called for in this legislation is estimated to be $536 million in Federal funds, which will be matched by $550 million in non-Federal funds.