Negotiators have released a final restoration plan for the Klamath River, meant to accompany an agreement to remove the four main dams that have squelched salmon and other fisheries in the river for years.
Both deals are now ready for ratification by the California and Oregon governments, tribal leaders, county officials and fishing, farming and environmental groups.
The final version of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement also clarifies legal waivers tribes would adopt to shield dam owner Pacificorp and Upper Klamath Basin irrigators from liability surrounding issues that might occur after the dams are transferred to the federal government and then are removed. It also addresses concerns raised by some groups by solidifying that the tribes will not waive rights to sue under the federal Endangered Species Act or the Clean Water Act. The changes clear up misconceptions that the agreement is a wholesale waiver of tribal and fishing rights, said Yurok Tribe policy analyst Troy Fletcher.
”This is a major accomplishment and we need to understand it for what it is,” Fletcher said. “It doesn't solve all the problems in the basin and we never said it does.”
Many of the other changes between the draft Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the final version are conforming language and dates.
Fletcher said a lot of work remains to secure federal legislation, a U.S. Interior Secretary determination that removal of the dams is in the public interest and the development of specific restoration plans. Conditions also need to be developed for handling droughts in the basin so they do not harm salmon and other fish, a plan that will be negotiated over the next year. The parties in the negotiations will have to decide within the next few weeks whether to sign or not.
The Klamath Basin Re-storation Agreement caps the amount of water irrigators in the Upper Klamath Basin can use in a given year, providing more certainty for farms but also significantly improving conditions for fish in the river, according to supporters. The $1 billion effort would also set in motion a variety of habitat restoration projects for fish and wildlife.
The Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement was released in September, calling for the removal of Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and J.C. Boyle dams. The dams would begin to come out in 2020, paid for with up to $450 million from dam owner Pacificorp's ratepayers and a California water bond.
The majority of the 28 parties that negotiated the agreements have indicated they will sign the deals, though some environmental groups and the Hoopa Valley Tribe have voiced strong reservations or opposition. The Northcoast Environmental Center and other nonprofit groups have decided to pursue alternative legislation that they say will focus only on dam removal, improve conditions for fish and better protect wildlife refuges in the upper basin.
NEC Klamath Coordinator Jay Wright said that the group has not had a chance to review the changes to the restoration agreement, but said that if the alterations are positive they will consider that. He said the NEC wants ecosystem recovery on major Klamath tributaries like the Trinity, Scott and Shasta rivers and a plan that does not jeopardize salmon or waterfowl and wildlife in the upper Klamath Basin.
”We still believe the issues between dam removal and restoration are logically separate,” Wright said.
But supporters of the KBRA and KHSA say that the deals provide the surest way forward for the Klamath Basin, which has for years struggled to balance water for fish, farms, and refuges.
”This two-part settlement builds on a recognition that we share one basin,” said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, “and works towards a future in which both farmers and fishermen can prosper together, rather than be pitted against each other as in the past.”