By TIM HEARDEN
REDDING, Calif. — Preparations to remove four dams along the Klamath River in Southern Oregon and Northern California are moving forward, an energy official said.
Tim Hemstreet, a representative from hydroelectric facility operator PacifiCorp, outlined some 21 conservation and other measures during a public hearing here Wednesday.
Measures have included more than $1 million in projects to benefit imperiled coho salmon and shortnose suckers in the river, a biological opinion examining the impact of increased flows and development of a water quality tracking plan.
The efforts are called for in the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, which along with a Klamath Basin water sharing agreement was forged over several years by dozens of user groups.
“There’s a lot of good work happening in terms of interim conservation measures,” said Hemstreet, PacifiCorp’s Portland-based program manager.
His comments came during a meeting of the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council, which was formed as part of the agreement that aims to supply sufficient water for fish, farms and tribes in the basin. The council includes representatives from all of the pact’s signatories.
The daylong meeting was held at Redding’s Hilton Garden Inn and also included updates on fisheries restoration, implementation of the restoration agreement and a public comment period.
Announced earlier this year, the dam removal and water sharing pacts seek to resolve a century-old fight over limited water in the Klamath Basin but has drawn opposition from many residents there.
The dams produce enough power for 70,000 people. Their removal wouldn’t start until 2020 and would depend on funding, authorization from Congress and a determination by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that the measure is in the interest of both the salmon and the public. Salazar is expected to make his determination next fall.
In September, the Oregon Public Utility Commission affirmed a dam removal surcharge for customers that will provide $184 million for dam removal.
The commission recognized that “the hydro settlement agreement provides better protection for customers” than continuing down the current path, Hemstreet said.
A California surcharge proceeding is ongoing, and a decision is anticipated in April, Hemstreet said.
Conservation groups have characterized the river restoration as the biggest in the country’s history. But some farmers and ranchers in the basin complain the agreement doesn’t go far enough in assuring them of a reliable water source or shielding them from environmental lawsuits.
The coordinating council deals mainly with the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, but Hemstreet was invited to speak because it’s important to include information about the dam removals, council facilitator Ed Sheets said. He said he was impressed with the progress of the preparations.
During public comment, Ric Costales, a natural resource policy specialist for Siskiyou County, Calif., voiced his county’s concern that some of the council’s activities are “getting ahead of congressional approval, which is needed for these things.”
Specifically, he cited advertisements for a council representative from the U.S. Forest Service, which has not been authorized.
Key dates for additional comment are:
* May 2011: The draft environmental impact statement will be reviewed in public meetings.
* September 2011: The final environmental impact statement will be issued.
* November 2011: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar could decide if dam removal and other parts of the Klamath restoration agreement are in the public interest.
It will take enabling legislation from Congress and voter approval for funding California’s share of dam removal costs to make the project happen. A tentative demolition time frame is 2020.
Klamath Basin Coordinating Council: http://www.edsheets.com/Klamathdocs.html
Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement: http://klamathrestoration.gov
December 16, 2010