Agreement Is First Step in Removing Klamath River Dams

The U.S. government, the states of California and Oregon, and PacifiCorp on Nov. 13 announced an Agreement in Principle (AIP) that takes the first critical step down a presumptive path toward a historic resolution of Klamath River resource issues and the Klamath River dams.

The AIP provides a flexible framework for the presumed transfer of four dams from PacifiCorp to a government-designated dam removal entity (DRE), which would then undertake the removal of those dams, and sets a timeline for the signing of a final agreement. Under the AIP, final authority for dam removal must be granted by the Secretary of the Interior following an assessment to confirm the current view of the United States and state governments that dam removal is in the public interest.

"This is a historic announcement and the culmination of years of hard work from the numerous negotiators from the federal government and the states of California and Oregon, and PacifiCorp representatives who have worked toward a common goal of how best to protect the uniqueness of this region," said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne. "We have agreed to a path forward that will protect fish, PacifiCorp customers, and the local cultures and communities in the two-state Klamath River basin."

There is a complex framework for dam removal that balances the timing of removal of each of the four dams with operating conditions and the costs of replacement power for PacifiCorp customers. The AIP provides a target removal date of 2020.

The AIP compels the federal government to scientifically assess the costs and benefits of dam removal. The United States will make a final determination by March 31, 2012, whether the benefits of dam removal will justify the costs-- informed by scientific and engineering studies conducted in the interim, and in consultation with state, local, and tribal governments and other stakeholders, as appropriate. At that point, the United States shall designate a non-federal dam removal entity (DRE) to remove the dams or decline to remove the dams, at which point PacifiCorp will return to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for relicensing.

Assuming a final agreement is reached next year and pending congressional approval, PacifiCorp will also set aside millions of dollars for immediate environmental improvements. The funds would be used to implement numerous measures that will enhance habitat, improve water quality, increase fish populations, and benefit fisheries management in the basin.

"This careful effort to balance the complex needs of numerous interests within the community is exactly the type of approach PacifiCorp takes every time we sit down to the settlement table," said Greg Abel, PacifiCorp chair and chief executive officer. "This flexible framework ensures that our customers will be protected at every step along the way, while remaining consistent with our strong commitment to respecting the environment. We will continue to work diligently with everyone at the table, including the irrigators, environmentalists, the tribes and all local elected officials with the goal of reaching a final dam removal agreement that is in the economic interests of PacifiCorp customers.

The AIP also establishes protections for PacifiCorp customers from liability associated with any removal of the dams and limits the amount customers would pay toward environmental improvements and dam removal.

Copies of the AIP and accompanying letters from the Department of the Interior to the states and PacifiCorp can be found at

According to American Rivers, dam removal will reopen more than 300 miles of habitat for the Klamath's salmon and steelhead populations and eliminate water quality problems caused by the reservoirs.

Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers said, "We have not popped the champagne cork yet, but we have put a bottle on ice. The initial agreement is a huge step toward a healthy Klamath River Basin. American Rivers looks forward to working out remaining details in the final negotiations."

A study by the California Energy Commission and the Department of the Interior found that removing the four dams and replacing their power would save PacifiCorp customers up to $285 million over 30 years.

The dams, built between 1908 and 1962, cut off hundreds of miles of once-productive salmon spawning and rearing habitat in the Upper Klamath, which was once the third most productive salmon river on the West Coast. The dams also create toxic conditions in the reservoirs that threaten the health of fish and people.