SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The governors of Oregon and California have agreed to sign on in support of the plan to remove a series of dams along the Klamath River, likely saving a project that recently appeared to founder after a ruling by federal regulators.
The plan to remove the four PacifiCorp dams has been in the works for years now, and saw cooperation between the northwest power company, tribes of the Klamath River Basin, and Pacific Coast fishers who want to see salmon populations rebound.
However, in July the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a ruling that required PacifiCorp to remain a co-licensee even after handing over the dams to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the group that represents stakeholders in the dam removal project.
The FERC's ruling posed a potential upset to the project — keeping PacifiCorp on the hook for at least partial liability if anything were to go wrong.
On Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom joined Oregon Governor Kate Brown, leaders from the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, and representatives from the Berkshire Hathaway-owned PacifiCorp in signing onto an agreement that promises to see the project through to completion.
“The Klamath River is a centerpiece of tribal community, culture and sustenance and a national ecological treasure,” Governor Newsom said. “With this agreement, we are closer than ever to restoring access to 400 miles of salmon habitat which will be a boon to the local economy. I am grateful for the partnership between California and Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes and Berkshire Hathaway that proves when we work together, we can build a better, more inclusive future for all.”
The Memorandum of Agreement signed by those parties asks the FERC to remove PacifiCorp from the license, adding the states of California and Oregon on as co-licensees instead.
"Adding the states as co-licensees provides assurances that the project will have sufficient financial backing while honoring settlement terms that stipulate PacifiCorp would not be a co-licensee for removal," Newsom's office said.
The agreement also commits to seeing the dam removal project through, nearly doubles contingency funds for the KRRC and dam removal contractors, and promises to share costs between all parties if needed. KRRC will remain the primary entity in charge of the project.
Under the agreement, the parties agree to seek final regulatory approvals in order to begin the project in 2022, with dam removal slated for 2023. Other restoration work would continue beyond 2023.
The FERC must approve both the new license transfer agreement, and the dam removal plan itself.
“As Yurok tribal people, it is our sacred duty to bring balance to the Klamath River,” Yurok Tribe Chair Joseph James said. “At its heart, dam removal is about healing and restoration for the river, for the salmon, and for our people. We have never wavered from this obligation and we are pleased to see dam removal come closer to reality through this agreement."