[env-trinity] Times Standard- Klamath draft report released
tstokely at att.net
Thu Jan 26 10:22:34 PST 2012
Klamath draft report released; Thompson: 'The time for Congress to act is now'
Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 01/25/2012 02:19:34 AM PST
A draft report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of the Interior says a landmark agreement to remove dams in the Klamath Basin will restore salmon and sustain irrigation for farmers in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
The findings seem to support a bill recently introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkeley, D-Oregon, and North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, that would authorize the Interior Department to decide whether to remove the four Klamath River dams.
Thompson issued a statement on Tuesday urging his colleagues in Congress to act on the bill, which dam-removal proponents claim is being held hostage by the partisan rancor that is enveloping the Capitol.
”The synthesis of studies released today scientifically confirms that the agreements in place represent the best way forward for the Klamath River Basin and its communities,” Thompson said in the release. “Years of scientific and technical studies have concluded that the dam removals will not only benefit our river basin by restoring fish and wildlife habitats, it will strengthen our economy by creating thousands of jobs. The time for Congress to act is now.”
Under the removal agreement -- which necessitated compromise from dam owner PacifiCorp, fishermen, farmers, environmentalists and tribes, many of which had spent years in conflict -- the parties were tasked with providing a comprehensive environmental and economic analysis of the impacts
of removing the four Klamath River dams. The report released Tuesday came as a part of that process.
”The science and analysis presented in these reports are vital to making an informed and sound decision on the Klamath River dam removal,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a press release.
The draft report -- which largely repeats previously released findings -- states that dam removal would improve salmonid fish populations in the long term and create 1,400 construction jobs during the year it would take to remove the dams. In more good news for proponents of dam removal, the report also puts the estimated cost of dam removal at $291.6 million in 2020 dollars, well shy of the $450 million cost cap outlined in the historic removal agreement signed by more than two dozen groups in February 2010.
But the report also includes some kernels for those opposed to the dam removal agreement, noting that removal would potentially increase flooding risks, cut electricity production and decrease property values and recreational opportunities at the four reservoirs currently sitting behind the dams slated for removal.
Overall, the report is good news, said Karuk Tribe spokesman Craig Tucker.
”It's another affirmation that implementing our agreements is good for fish, good for farms, good for the economy and good for America,” Tucker said.
It appears the agreement's biggest obstacle is Congress. The interior secretary is responsible for deciding whether dam removal is in the public's best interest by March 31, but he can't make the determination until Congress passes legislation clearing the way.
While Thompson and Merkeley have introduced the legislation -- which carries 18 co-sponsors -- it has seen little movement as Congress remains gripped by partisan gridlock.
”We're frustrated by Congress' inability to take care of issues,” Tucker said, adding that the lack of legislative progress has nothing to do with Thompson, who Tucker said has been a leader on the issue. “Folks that work in the beltway say they've never seen gridlock of this type.”
If Congress fails to act in time to meet the March 31 deadline outlined in the dam removal agreement, many seem to feel the deal would be dead. However, Tucker said Tuesday he doesn't see that as an insurmountable obstacle, saying all stakeholders would “absolutely” return to the table to work out an extension.
”Just because we're in a tough Congressional environment, doesn't mean we're not going to keep pushing forward,” Tucker said. “We think we have a bipartisan solution to one of the West's biggest water woes.”
While the agreement may have bipartisan support, it is not universal.
Representatives of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, which has argued the project's environmental reports are inadequate and generally been a detractor of the agreement, were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
In a message left for the Times-Standard shortly before deadline, fisheries biologist Pat Higgins said the hypothetical number of jobs created by dam removal would be a short-term stimulus, while the potential damage to the Klamath River ecosystem by the dam removal agreement would be long standing.
”Getting the dams out is good but the Klamath Dam Removal Agreement that goes with it is very bad -- it doesn't do enough to clean up the pollution and it doesn't leave enough water for fish,” said Higgins, a fisheries consultant for the Resighini Rancheria, a tribe located in Del Norte County.
One thing working in the agreement's favor, Tucker said, is the $37 million sitting in a trust fund, accruing interest, with more money being added monthly to fund the removal project. PacifiCorp's 550,000 Oregon customers have been paying an extra 2 percent per month on their electric bills since the fall to fund the removal project, and the company started charging its California customers the fee earlier this month.
Tucker said stakeholders will focus their energy on lobbying Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to support the project.
”We need to get them to step up to the plate and help us with this,” Tucker said, adding that the two lawmakers have not yet voiced either support for or opposition to the project. “We're going to keep appealing to them. We think they're key players in this.”
On the web:
To view the full report and the individual studies, visit www.klamathrestoration.gov.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or tgreenson at times-standard.com.
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