Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

November 20, 2020

Un-Dam the Klamath: Dam Removal Update and Celebration Nov. 20, 2020


If anyone would like to talk please let us know. The Yurok and Karuk Tribes plan to present along with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the dam removal entity. Then we are hoping to hear from additional Tribes and organizations and the Klamath and Trinity River water protectors, including the elders and fishing families, that have engaged in nearly two-decade of advocacy and actions to make this happen.

Tribal Leaders, CA and Oregon Governors and Warren Buffett Sign Klamath Dam Removal Agreement

By Dan Bacher

SACRAMENTO – On November 17, leaders from the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, the Governors of California and Oregon, and executives from Berkshire Hathaway and PacifiCorp unveiled a new agreement to remove four Klamath River dams, including two located in California and two in Oregon.

In their new agreement, the states of California and Oregon will partner with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) to assume liability for the dam removal project, transferring the license to operate the dams from PacifiCorp.

The recording of the press conference is available here:

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a July order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that threw the dam removal plan into question. FERC announced that KRRC would not be able to be a sole licensee on the project because it “has limited finances and no experience with hydropower dam operation or dam removal.”

When completed, the parties say the agreement will address dramatic declines in salmon, steelhead and other fish populations, improve river health and renew Tribal communities and cultures.

Removing the Klamath dams will open more than 300 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead in the Klamath Basin. It will also mark the first time the Klamath will flow freely in over a century.

The Memorandum of Agreement signed by the states of California and Oregon, the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe, PacifiCorp and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), describes how the parties will implement the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) as negotiated and signed in 2016. The KHSA sets the terms for the removal of four Klamath River dams.  

With the Memorandum of Agreement, the parties:

  • “Jointly ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to remove PacifiCorp from the license for the project and add California, Oregon and KRRC as co-licensees for carrying out dam removal. 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.
  • Demonstrate their firm commitment to dam removal.
  • Agree to nearly double available contingency funds held by KRRC and contractors and, in the unlikely event that additional funds are needed beyond that, Oregon, California and PacifiCorp will share the costs equally to address FERC’s requirement to ensure full funding for the project.
  • Confirm that the KRRC will remain the dam removal entity for the project.
  • Plan to navigate the final regulatory approvals necessary to allow the project to begin in 2022 with dam removal in 2023. Site remediation and restoration will continue beyond 2023.
  • Retain the liability protections for PacifiCorp’s customers established in the KHSA.”

“Taken together, these provisions are intended to resolve FERC’s concerns raised in a July 2020 order and ensure a successful dam removal project,” according to a joint press release.

“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.

“Reaching this important milestone would not be possible without the many tribal people who have dedicated their lives to restoring the river. We want to thank Berkshire Hathaway, PacifiCorp, California, Oregon, and the Karuk Tribe. Although we are excited to be moving forward again, we want to emphasize that the Yurok Tribe will never rest until the dams are out and the river is healed. From the families on the Klamath we want to thank the Buffett family for their support and leadership,” said James.

“We deeply appreciate the efforts of Governors Newsom and Brown, the Yurok Tribe and the leadership of Berkshire Hathaway to forge a path forward on dam removal,” Karuk Tribe Chair Russell “Buster” Attebery said. “We are more confident than ever that future generations of Karuk will enjoy the benefits of a healthy Klamath River just as their ancestors did dating back to the beginning of time. Most importantly, this moment is a testament to years of devotion and hard work by the community of activists representing all Tribes on the river who have never tired of demanding justice for their communities.”

“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.”

“This is an incredibly important step forward on the path towards restorative justice for the people of the Klamath Basin, and towards restoring health to the river as well as everyone and everything that depends on it,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said. “From time immemorial, the stewardship of the indigenous peoples of the Klamath basin have nurtured the lands, waters, fish and wildlife of this region. In Oregon, the Klamath tribes remember a time when their livelihoods were supported by clean, healthy, and vibrant waters. It is that vision, that promise, that we are working towards restoring for the generations to come.”

“I want to thank Governor Newsom and Governor Brown for their leadership in bringing everyone together to collaborate and solve a very complex challenge,” Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett said. “I recognize the importance of Klamath dam removal and river restoration for tribal people in the Klamath Basin. We appreciate and respect our tribal partners for their collaboration in forging an agreement that delivers an exceptional outcome for the river, as well as future generations. Working together from this historic moment, we can complete the project and remove these dams.”

“We are deeply grateful to the parties who negotiated a path forward for this epic project to restore the Klamath River,” KRRC Chief Executive Officer Mark Bransom said. “As has been the case numerous times in the past, the signatories to the KHSA have tackled obstacles head on and found creative solutions to daunting problems. But we particularly recognize the personal involvement of Governor Newsom, Governor Brown and Berkshire Hathaway leadership who stepped in to ensure that dam removal proceeds. Once all the necessary approvals are obtained it will be full speed ahead in removing the Klamath dams and allowing salmon to access habitat that has been cut off for a century.”  

The implementation of the amended KHSA requires two approvals by FERC.

First, FERC must approve the transfer of the license for the dams from PacifiCorp to the KRRC and the states.

Second, FERC must approve the dam removal plan.

Read the full Memorandum of Agreement here.  

Don Gentry, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes, lauded the agreement in a statement:

"Salmon and steelhead once provided sustenance for our people and were an integral part of our culture and lifeways which helped us survive through the ages, but for over a century the dams have prevented them from reaching our homelands. Many have prayed for the day when we can once again see these fish home here again swimming in the rivers and creeks and are rightfully restored back to us. We are grateful to Governor Brown, Governor Newsom, the leaders of the Karuk and Yurok Tribes, and PacifiCorp and Berkshire Hathaway for finding a way forward to make dam removal and return of our fish a reality."

Several fishing and environmental groups also praised the MOA.

“This decision comes after almost twenty years of organizing, testifying, actions and planning from the native peoples of the Klamath basin, coastal fishermen and their allies,” said Regina Chichizola, from Save California Salmon, “Several generations of Klamath River peoples have used science, economics, story-telling, and non-stop advocacy to prove to the most powerful people in the world that dam removal is the best option for not only restoring the Klamath River and west coast salmon industry, but also for protecting PacifiCorp’s shareholders and ratepayers. This is a victory for everyone but more importantly, it is a victory for the native families that have always cared for, and protected, the Klamath River."

Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), which represents commercial fishing families coastwide, applauded the MOA.

“The four Klamath dams have been a disaster for west coast salmon fisheries. Moving forward again toward Klamath dam removals will help restore the third largest salmon runs in the continental US, bringing salmon-dependent jobs and businesses back to the whole region,” said Spai. 

Trout Unlimited (TU) also lauded the Memorandum of Agreement signed today by the parties.  

“Today’s agreement solves the remaining issues associated with the project and clears the way for dam removal,” said Brian J. Johnson, California Director for Trout Unlimited. “This is not a back-up plan. This is a better version of the plan.”

“Leadership matters. This is happening because Governor Newsom, Governor Brown, and Warren Buffett’s executive team made it happen,” said Chrysten Lambert, Oregon Director for Trout Unlimited. “After decades of leadership by the tribes and strong support from conservation and fishing groups, the project is moving forward.”

“It’s great to see the project continuing to move forward.  Big dam removals take time,” said Curtis Knight, CalTrout Executive Director. “It’s been 20 years since this process of assessing the dams started.  It’s been 100 plus years since Klamath salmon, and tribal communities that depend on them, had access to the upper basin.  This latest agreement all but paves the way for the largest river restoration project in US history to finally be completed.”

The removal agreement faces strong opposition from some Republican Congressional Representatives. Congressman Doug LaMalfa issued the following statement opposing dam removal after the Klamath River agreement was announced today:

“California’s quest to remove these perfectly good dams continues. Now the taxpayers of California and Oregon will be on the hook due to this agreement to pick up a multi-billion dollar expense for the cost and liability of the inevitable environmental damage this project will cause. Removing these dams will do nothing to help fish but will destroy water storage needed for firefighting and will bankrupt Siskiyou County.

“Let’s face it, the State of California has a terrible history of managing dams and completing large projects. After the Oroville Dam spillway crisis in 2017, the grossly expensive Bay Bridge project, and the failed High Speed Rail, it would be foolish to assume California can well-manage projects of significant scope. Removing these dams will be difficult and will inevitably cause more harm than good to ratepayers, taxpayers, and the fish the state is claiming to protect.

“The dams themselves are a benefit to our overloaded power grid and the local area economy. Especially in a year where power is a precious commodity and in short supply at times, removing this reliable, renewable, and cost-effective energy source will harm Basin-area residents, Oregon ratepayers, and our already stretched state grid.”

Read more: National Geographic: Huge dam removal could save salmon on the brink of extinction:

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