Hope For The Klamath River And Its Communities

It took two years and hundreds of hours of negotiating, but we did it. Yesterday American Rivers and 25 other parties announced a landmark agreement to end decades of disputes over water in the Klamath Basin, and chart a better future for the river and its fishing and farming communities.

Now, the next step is to get PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, to remove its four outdated dams on the Klamath. While we have a lot to celebrate with yesterday’s agreement, we are still working to finalize the dam removal agreement with PacifiCorp, which is an essential part of the package.

The Klamath River, flowing in Oregon and California, once supported the third-largest salmon run on the west coast. But the construction of four dams and years of irrigation diversions have taken their toll. Today, Klamath salmon and steelhead runs are a fraction of their historic abundance, with some near extinction. This has hurt the Karuk, Yurok, Klamath and Hoopa tribes whose livelihoods and cultures depend on the river and its salmon. It has been a disaster for fishermen, who have lost hundreds of millions of dollars because of fisheries shut-downs. And it has created uncertainties and difficulties for the basin’s farmers, who need a reliable supply of water for their crops.But yesterday, former adversaries came together and announced a plan for a more sustainable future in the Klamath Basin. The Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement includes a program to rebuild fish populations, more predictable irrigation water allocations for farmers, reliable water supplies for the basin’s national wildlife refuges, and assistance for counties impacted by the removal of PacifiCorp’s dams.

Parties to the Basin Agreement include American Rivers and 8 other conservation organizations; four tribes (Karuk, Yurok, Klamath and Hoopa); Klamath County (OR), Siskiyou and Humboldt Counties (CA), the Klamath Water Users Association, farmers outside of the federal irrigation project, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations, the states of Oregon and California, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce.

Now the ball is in PacifiCorp’s court. The company needs to agree to remove its four dams [JC Boyle, Copco 2, Copco 1 and Iron Gate (shown above, and the iron gate dam area, pre -construction, which is shown below)] on the Klamath River. Dam removal, which would open 350 miles of historic salmon habitat, is critical to the restoration of the salmon runs. The Basin Agreement and the dam removal agreement with PacifiCorp must go hand in hand. Without one, the other won’t go forward.

But if all goes well, this will be the biggest dam removal and river restoration project our nation has ever seen. To see what a restored, free-flowing Klamath River would look like, take a look at the animated visualizations American Rivers created.

Dam removal is not only the right move for the river and salmon, it’s the right move for PacifiCorp’s customers. A study by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the Department of the Interior found that removing the dams and replacing their power would save PacifiCorp customers up to $285 million over 30 years.

The four dams produce a nominal amount of power, which the CEC says can be replaced using renewables and efficiency measures, without contributing to global warming.

So, while we still have a lot of work ahead of us, solutions are in sight for the Klamath Basin. We have an opportunity here to create a win-win for the river and its people.

You can help us restore the Klamath River. Send a message to Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp that these dams no longer make sense and need to go. You can direct your letter to this address:

Mr. Warren Buffett
Berkshire Hathaway, Inc.
1440 Kiewit Plaza
Omaha, NE 68131

I look forward to posting other updates here as we make progress in this exciting river restoration effort.

Image credit::American Rivers, Klamath River photo gallery, Iron Gate Dam.