West Coast lawmakers introduce bills to remove four Klamath hydro projects

WASHINGTON 11/16/11 (PennWell) -- Seventeen West Coast Democrats have introduced bills in the House and Senate that would authorize the Interior Department to spend more than $1 billion to remove four privately owned hydroelectric projects and perform environmental restoration on the Klamath River in Oregon and California.

Utility PacifiCorp had been seeking a relicense for the 161.338-MW Klamath hydroelectric project (No. 2082) when environmental and fishing groups and state and federal resources agencies launched a campaign to remove the project. A 2009 settlement agreement calls for removal of the utility's main Klamath River hydropower plants and dams, 90.338-MW J.C. Boyle, 20-MW Copco 1, 27-MW Copco 2, and 18-MW Iron Gate and transfer of the non-powered Keno Dam to the Interior Department.

PacifiCorp was brought to the negotiating table when faced by mandatory fishway prescriptions by Interior and the Commerce Department that would render the hydro project no longer economical to operate. The full hydroelectric project also includes the 3.2-MW East Side and 600-kW West Side developments, which PacifiCorp proposed to decommission voluntarily, and the 2.2-MW Fall Creek development, on a Klamath River tributary.

In September, a draft environmental impact statement by the Department of Interior and the state of California recommended removal of the four hydroelectric developments on the Klamath at an estimated cost of more than $291 million to ratepayers and taxpayers.

However, lead sponsors of dam removal legislation -- Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif. -- said Nov. 10 that the total cost of removing the dams and "embarking on the environmental restoration called for in this legislation" is estimated at $1.086 billion: $536 million in federal funds and $550 million in non-federal funds.

Dam removal pushed as jobs legislation

Backers of the bills -- S.1851 in the Senate and H.R.3398 in the House -- represented the dam removal effort as economic development, labeling it the "Klamath Basin Economic Restoration Act." Interior Department studies said dam removal would support about 1,400 jobs during the one-year dam removal process, 4,600 jobs over 15 years of implementing restoration programs, and about 450 annual commercial fishing jobs.

"This legislation will provide a brighter future for the Klamath Basin, putting people to work and improving the economy for farmers and fishermen alike," Merkley said.

Under terms of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is to make a final decision on dam removal based on review of the draft environmental impact statement data and public input. That decision is expected in March. Framework agreements call for removing the dams by 2020 if Congress and Interior Department scientists approve.

The Merkley and Thompson bills direct the Interior secretary to proceed with implementation of the settlement agreement, designating the Interior Department or an unnamed non-federal entity to serve as Dam Removal Entity. The Dam Removal Entity would be authorized to use federal and non-federal money to enter into contracts to remove the hydroelectric projects.

Interior has said its studies found that, over several decades, dam removal and a watershed-wide restoration program could increase significantly salmon harvests in the river and ocean, eliminate toxic algae blooms in reservoirs, and restore more normal water temperatures for salmon in the Klamath.

Although the Klamath settlement agreement set a cap of $450 million for dam removal, the Interior studies said the "most probable estimate" to remove the four dams and carry out mitigation is $291.6 million, in 2020 dollars. The settlement agreement calls for no more than $200 million of dam removal costs to come from additional charges to PacifiCorp ratepayers, while up to $250 million would come from sale of bonds in California "or other means deemed appropriate financing mechanisms."

Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled House removed funding for key scientific studies to carry out the plan. At that time, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., described as "lunacy" the plan "to destroy four perfectly good hydroelectric dams."



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