Editor’s Note: The day after this article went to press in the print edition of the Fish Sniffer, representatives of the state and federal governments, Klamath Basin Indian Tribes, PacifiCorp and environmental and fishery conservation groups on April 6 signed the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) that this piece discusses.
Representatives from the state, federal, Tribal and county governments, environmental and fishery conservation NGOs and the public convened in a packed meeting room in Sacramento on March 16 to discuss amendments to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) that proposes the removal of four Klamath River dams.
The amended KHSA, a 133-page document, focuses on removing three dams in California and one in Oregon, through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) dam relicensing process. PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Corporation, owns the dams.
The parties had previously tried to pass legislation empowering the KHSA through Congress, along with two other related agreements including the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), but those efforts failed during the past two Congressional Sessions.
The States of Oregon and California, PacifiCorp and the federal government, through the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Commerce, in February announced agreement-in-principle in February to move forward with amending the KHSA.
Under the agreement, the KHSA parties will pursue its implementation through the administrative process governed by the FERC. using existing funding and on the same timeline, according to PacifiCorp.
The agreement “lays out a new path while achieving the goals of the original agreement and it provides the same protections,” said Sara Edmonds, Vice President and General Counsel of PacifiCorp Transmission, at the meeting.
The 4-hour long meeting featured opening comments by state, federal, Tribal and county governments, a point-by-point review of the agreement by the parties and a public comments period.
For Thomas Wilson, a member of the Yurok Tribal Council and owner of Spey-Gee Point Guide Service, dam removal is very personal, since he and other members of the Tribe depend on the river’s salmon for their income and food.
“We keep hearing about revenue today,” said Wilson. “We better talk about taking care of the resource instead of the dollar bill or people will starve to death.”
The Tribe withdrew from both the KBRA and KHSA in September 2015, announcing in a statement “Congress has failed to pass legislation authorizing the agreements, and over time the bargained for benefits of the agreements have become unachievable,” Wilson said the Tribe supports dam removal through the 401-certification process. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/9/16/1421821/-Yurok-Tribe-Withdraws-from-Klamath-Agreements)
“Any way the dams can come down is our ultimate goal,” Wilson explained. “It is our resource and provides a subsistence and commercial fishery.
“We are so poor that we can’t even go bankrupt,” he emphasized. “We rely on the fish, but there are not enough fish this year to give to everyone. We really need to think about rebuilding the Klamath.”
The need to remove the Klamath Dams so that the fish can once again migrate into the headwaters as they did for thousands and thousands of years was underscored by the low abundance numbers of fall-run Chinook salmon, the driver of the Yurok commercial and subsistence fishery, expected this year.
Wilson said severe cuts in fish harvest this year will be devastating to him and other tribal members. The low numbers of salmon projected this season are the result of over 90 percent of the juvenile salmon perishing due to C. Shasta and other diseases in low, warm conditions on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers over the past two years.
“This season will be devastating for fishermen and people on the river. Usually we get around 12,000 fish for subsistence on the river and what’s left goes to the commercial fishery. This year our entire quota is only about 5900 fish,” he explained.
“The people are praying that the science predicting the low numbers is wrong. If we don’t protect the fish now, it will hurt us down the road. As Yuroks and natives, we are conservationists. We want make sure enough to keep seed for the all of the resources for future generations,” he added.
Voicing an opposing point of view was Erin Ryan, a staffer for Congressman Doug La Malfa, who read a blistering letter from La Malfa slamming the revived dam removal process.
“The entire process has been mired in secrecy and appears to have been conceived as a way to exclude the public from the decision-making process on an issue that very much affects them,” the letter stated. “Several years an advisory measure passed by 79 percent in favor of retaining the Klamath dams. People in my district are very concerned about the affect your plans will have on their property and livelihood. “
La Malfa urged participants to halt the process and restart it from the beginning in a full public forum. “Meetings should be held in Klamath Falls and Yreka at the very least so that those affected may have input without driving 275 miles,” the letter said.
Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallums, who, after he saw the county’s name on the amended agreement, emphasized that the County is not a party to the KHSA.
He said, “Our attitude right now is to say ‘Thank you, but no thanks,’
However, Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, responded to the contentions of dam removal opponents, noting that the dams aren’t publicly funded.
“PacifiCorp owns the dams,” he said. “It’s a private owner. You have no more right to keep the dams than you have the right to tell your neighbor not to keep his car.”
John Driscoll, a staff person for Representative Jared Huffman’s Office, said the Congressman was also very supportive of dam removal.
“We believe the authority is in place now to act and we need to keep acting. No new power is needed,” he explained.
During much of the meeting, participants reviewed and commented on sections of the agreement. The Hoopa Valley Tribe made some of the most critical comments on the amended agreement.
The Tribe opposed the previous agreements because they held they violated tribal water rights, and advocated pursuing dam removal through the FERC Section 401 certification process, as is being done now.
“We’re now back at the table and we still are concerned over amendments, including section 1.7 that refers to the Trinity River Restoration Program,” said Ryan Jackson, Chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. “This agreement shouldn’t impact the Trinity River Restoration Program (TRRP).”
He and other Hoopa Valley Tribe representatives in the meeting also asked for the removal of Section 1.9 that refers to the 2016 Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement (KPFA). “The real focus should be dam removal by itself,” he stated.
Jackson and Tribal Negotiator Danny Jordan were also concerned about the proposed transfer of ownership of the Trinity River Fish Hatchery, now owned by PacifiCorp and operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in partnership with Hoopa Valley Tribe in their coho program, to the state of California. He said the hatchery should be transferred instead to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the trustee for the Tribe.
Mark Baird of Scott Valley Protect Our Water, a long-time opponent of dam removal, claimed that the agreement is a violation of the compact clause of the U.S. Constitution – and presents a usurpation of the law. He also claimed 22 million yards of sediment would “kill everything in the river” once the dams are removed.
John Driscoll dismissed Baird’s claim that dam removal would hurt the river.
“There is an enormous volume of evidence supporting dam removal and the proven benefits for downstream Tribes and commercial fishermen. The FERC process is a fully public process involving the public,” he emphasized.
After the meeting adjourned, Craig Tucker, Natural Resources Advocate for the Karuk Tribe, said, in spite of all of the ups and down of the dam removal process, “We are still confident that the dams will come down by hook or crook.”