MEDFORD, Ore. — The U.S. Secretary of Interior released this week a draft report on impact of tearing down four dams on the Klamath River. It concludes that getting rid of the dams would increase salmon populations and create thousands of jobs. But Congress could still scuttle the deal.
Secretary Salazar has until March of next year to decide if removing four dams and implementing a restoration and water sharing plan in the Klamath Basin is in the public interest.
The draft environmental statement he just released suggests the answer will be “yes,” says James Honey. He’s with the environmental group Sustainable Northwest.
“It does appear that it’s cost effective,” he says. “It does appear that in general it’s safe, and protects in particular some fairly big natural resource economies in agriculture and commercial fishing.”
But don’t get ready to celebrate or mourn for the Klamath dams yet. There’s a catch. It’s Congress. Salazar can’t decide to remove the dams. First, he needs Congress to pass a law giving him permission. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, is writing a bill that would authorize the Klamath settlement agreements.
So far, there’s no plan for a bill in the House. But there is growing criticism of removing the dams.
“The House has already voted once this year against this lunacy,” says Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif. “It would require the House of Representatives to agree to tear down four perfectly good hydroelectric dams. At the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. I don’t think that’s likely.”
McClintock sits on the House Natural Resources Committee. The cost of actually taking out the dams would be paid for by ratepayers and the State of California. But the cost of the follow-up environmental work in the deal would fall to federal agencies.
Greg Addington represents farmers in the Klamath Basin. He says that for years, the farmers asked members of Congress for help securing water for irrigation. They were told:
“’You guys have to work this out on the ground. You have to work it out and bring us something.’ Well, we went and did that.”
Addington is still hoping Congress will approve and fund the deal by March. If not, farmers, tribes, fisherman, and the power company PacifiCorp will have to re-open negotiations.