On April 6, 2016, history was made on the Klamath River: diverse stakeholders from the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Commerce, PacificCorp, the states of Oregon and California, the Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa and Klamath Tribes, irrigators, environmental groups and river communities gathered to celebrate the signing ceremony for the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement , an agreement that, pending approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will remove four dams from the Klamath. In removing these dams, salmon will be able to access over 400 miles of habitat that has been off limits since the dams were constructed. According to the agreement, dam removal will begin January 1, 2020 with a “target date of December 31, 2020 for completion of Facilities Removal at least to a degree sufficient to enable a free-flowing Klamath River allowing volitional fish passage.”
This agreement was not met without obstacles. There were false starts. Signatories had joined three previous agreements to make up the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2015—the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement. But, unlike the most recent agreement, these previous efforts explicitly required Congressional approval before January 1, 2016. However, House Republicans blocked the bill and killed the deals. After the deadline passed, many began to lose faith in the settlement process. As a testimony to the strength of the relationship forged in developing the previous agreements, the signatories continued to talk and work together after the deadline. Because of their dedication and hard work, four dams will fall!
While dam removal is the single biggest action that can be taken to help save the remaining Klamath River salmon, salmon are not safe yet. Adequate summer flows, among other problems, are still a major issue that will need to be addressed in the future. This dam deal is only the start of ensuring the mighty Klamath’s salmon recover and thrive. Moving forward from this momentous occasion, EPIC will be there. As much of the Klamath watershed consists of national forest land, EPIC will be there doing what we do best—reducing the bloated forest road network, reforming or stopping bad projects that would degrade the steep forested slopes of the Klamath and its tributaries, and keeping the Forest Service accountable for the impacts projects such as the massive Westside timber sale would have on salmon and rivers.
EPIC was honored to attend the ceremony, although our contribution to dam removal pales in comparison to the hard work of many others. In particular, we are deeply indebted to the hard work of the tribes, the willingness of PacificCorp, the support of the Obama administration, the states of Oregon and California, District representatives like Huffman and the tireless efforts of activists all along the river who have diligently fought for dam removal. Honored and missed from the ceremony were some of the champions of this effort were Troy Fletcher, Tim McKay, Ronnie Pierce and Florence Conrad, all of whom laid the cornerstones for this momentous agreement but did not live long enough to see its signing.