The Klamath Basin

How a conservative Congress handed environmentalists exactly what they wanted: Dam removal without concessions

Dam removals on the Oregon-California border move forward without water deals for irrigators.

Klamath Basin tribes and allies from the commercial fishing and conservation community stage a rally at the 2006 meeting of the International Hydropower Industry. || Patrick McCully.

Klamath Basin tribes and allies from the commercial fishing and conservation community stage a rally at the 2006 meeting of the International Hydropower Industry. || Patrick McCully.

This story originally appeared in High Country News. The following text is an excerpt. Read the original, here.

Earlier this week, the Department of the Interior announced that four dams on the Klamath River would come down. The dam removals signal a win for environmentalists, sportsmen, and tribes, but they also come without an accompanying set of water agreements, which Congress failed to enact late last year. In the end, it didn’t come down to negotiations, but simple economics: the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determined that the costs of retrofitting the dams along the Oregon-California border far exceeded the costs of decommissioning them.

The dams on the Lower Klamath will be removed in 2021, and although river and salmon restoration look likely, the basin’s irrigators could experience shut-offs in drought years that could re-spark the water wars that have waged in the basin for decades. The dam removals will allow 300 miles of river to flow freely, restoring salmon runs and improving water quality. In turn, the tribes and fishermen that depend on the river and the environmental groups that have long sought to improve water quality for marine birds and fish have succeeded.

“The sad thing is that a much needed dam removal has been delayed for many years because it was held hostage for political reasons by a wildly expensive and controversial water deal,” says Jim McCarthy, a spokesman for WaterWatch, a conservation group involved in the early stages of the broader pact’s negotiations. “Now finally salmon runs can be restored.”

The decision vindicates groups that felt the Klamath Agreements, which were negotiated for decades, fell short. Conservation and environmental groups and many of the Basin’s tribal nations were excluded from the Klamath Agreements’ final package. Now, they’re getting exactly what they wanted: Dam removal with no strings attached.

Continue reading this story at High Country News.