[env-trinity] Siskiyou Daily News: Parties vote to extend KBRA

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Thu Jan 3 08:13:01 PST 2013

By John Bowman

January 02. 2013 10:16AM

Parties vote to extend KBRA

The 42 parties that originally signed the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) have voted unanimously to extend the deadline for congressional action necessary to implement the agreement.

PacifiCorp's Iron Gate Dam is the furthest downstream of four hydroelectric dams proposed for removal by the KBRA and KHSA agreements. The KBRA was recently extended until Dec. 31, 2014 in order to give Congress time to consider the legislation necessary to fully implement the controversial agreements.

The 42 parties that originally signed the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) have voted unanimously to extend the deadline for congressional action necessary to implement the agreement which outlines aspects of removing four PacifiCorp hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. The parties include several Klamath River tribes, irrigation districts, conservation groups, fishermen and  local and state governments.

As originally drafted, the KBRA would have terminated on Dec. 31, 2012 unless Congress passed authorizing legislation.   As it become increasingly clear that Congress would not act before the KBRA’s self-imposed deadline, the parties agreed to an amendment that would extend the agreement until Dec. 31, 2014.  The Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) does not have a termination date and the changes do not affect the proposed dam removal date of 2020.

For decades Klamath Basin communities have battled over the region’s limited water resources. Irrigation shut offs, fishery closures and a massive fish kill have created economic insecurity for tribes, farmers, fishermen and the communities that depend on them.

The KBRA and companion KHSA are the products of years of negotiations between Klamath River tribes, area farmers, fishermen, dam owner PacifiCorp and conservationists, though many local governments and agricultural groups have also opposed the agreements and chosen not to sign them. 

 Dam removal proponents say the agreements would provide greater water certainty to irrigators who have seen diversions shut off in the middle of growing seasons, but cap those diversions in a manner that provides greater flow assurances for fish. Supporters also say the agreements would improve conditions for salmon and save power customers money because, under terms of the agreements, dam removal would  be  cheaper than mandatory infrastructure upgrades required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service in order to relicense the dams.

The dams are currently operating without a valid federal license while the debate over their future drags on.  The last active license expired in 2004.

Those opposed to dam removal, including the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, say the process would release vast quantities of toxic sediment into the river and destroy its ecosystem for   years to come. Opponents also maintain that the dams provide essential flood protection, and the loss of recreational and scenic values provided by the reservoirs could decimate local property values.

Some groups opposed to dam removal also believe that claims of  dwindling salmon populations in the Klamath Basin are flatly untrue. Organizations such as the Siskiyou County Water Users Association (SCWUA) allege that fluctuations in salmon populations are solely the result of fluctuating ocean conditions rather than poor instream habitat. SCWUA also alleges that the coho salmon – listed as endangered in northern California and Southern Oregon – are not native to the Klamath Basin, which they say negates the necessity of efforts like dam removal.

District 5 Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong told the Daily News, “The KBRA has been proven wrong for the Klamath and its people on so many levels. There has been so much political manipulation of science and back-room dealing” and its extension “should highlight all the hefty ‘earmarks’ promised in the agreement for its special interest signatories. It also speaks to the abject failure of groups in the Klamath to engage in genuine dialogue and consideration of all regional needs and interests.”

She added, “This is an agreement forged by two wolves and a lamb as to what's for dinner. The upper and lower basin interests set upon the mid-Klamath to tear it apart as the basis for its bargain. It should be no surprise that the lamb objects. The bright spot in this feeding frenzy is that Congressman Tom McClintock remains as chairman of the Water and Power Sub-committee of the House Natural Resources Committee, and that he opposes removal of the dams.”  

According to Leaf Hillman, natural resources director for the Karuk Tribe, “This Agreement is the only approach that can restore salmon runs while benefitting Klamath Basin agriculture.”

Regarding congressional approval, Hillman stated, “We now need leadership from Senator Wyden and Senator Feinstein to move this through Congress or else the Klamath will soon plunge back into a constant state of crisis and economic uncertainty.”

Owner and operator of the dams, PacifiCorp, is among the signatories to the removal agreements. The company says removing the dams under the agreements will cost them and ratepayers less than other options.

PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said Monday, “We're hopeful that unanimous approval of the extension will keep the larger settlement on track to receive a full hearing in Congress as soon as possible in the new year. The company continues to believe that the Klamath hydro agreement is the best of the available choices for our nearly 600,000 ratepayers in Oregon and Northern California.”

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