science environment

Tribe, Fishing Groups Sue Over Klamath River Water Allocations

By Jes Burns (OPB)
Ashland, Ore. Aug. 3, 2019 1:23 a.m.

Fishing groups and tribes have filed a lawsuit challenging new endangered species protection guidelines for the Klamath River.

The suit targets the biological opinion, which is an assessment of how the Bureau of Reclamation manages river flow, irrigation water and levels in Upper Klamath Lake to ensure protection of coho salmon and two species of sucker fish. The newest opinion was finalized earlier this year.


The lawsuit filed by the Yurok Tribe, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resource says the biological opinion is too permissive, allowing irrigation withdrawals at the expense of fish.

The complaint argues the river levels don’t require enough flow to prevent disease outbreaks and “will reduce the amount of Coho rearing habitat to far less than the standard the National Marine Fisheries Service has deemed necessary to conserve the species.”

The groups are asking the district court judge to throw out the current biological opinion and require the Bureau of Reclamation and National Marine Fisheries Service to start again.

The National Marine Fisheries Service declined to comment on pending legislation.

Coho salmon.

Coho salmon in Eagle Creek, Oregon, October, 2009.

Courtesy of Rick Swart / Oregon Deparment of Fish and Wildlife


As it stands, the current biological opinion will cover Bureau of Reclamation operations on the Klamath River through 2024. But conditions on the Klamath could change significantly if a plan to remove four Oregon and California dams on the river is approved by federal and state energy regulators.

The Klamath River Renewal Corporation is going through the regulatory process with federal and state agencies in hopes they will allow the dams to be removed by 2022.

KRRC submitted evidence to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week, attempting to show that a small nonprofit corporation has the know-how to get the job done.

PacifiCorp owns the four Klamath River dams, but the utility doesn’t want to take on any liability that could result from dam removal. To ensure this, PacifiCorp plans to transfer ownership of the dams to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation.

A transfer of this sort requires FERC approval.

“If we were SoCal Edison or PG&E, it would almost be a rubber stamp, if we were just transferring a facility to another utility. FERC has never allowed the transfer of a hydropower facility to a nonprofit corporation,” said KRRC community liaison Dave Meurer.

Meurer says KRRC made a significant regulatory filing to FERC to show the nonprofit corporation has the funding and insurance backing necessary.

If federal energy regulators approve the transfer of ownership, KRRC would then have to seek approval to take down the dams. KRCC says the result would be the “largest dam removal and river restoration project in U.S. history.”

Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris co-signed a letter to FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose Thursday supporting the transfer of the dams to KRRC.