Friday, December 04, 2015

With Klamath bill uncertain, dam relicensing moves ahead

The process to relicense the hydroelectric dam system on the Klamath River will likely move forward if Congress fails to act by the end of the year on historic settlement agreements to remove four of the dams. The Klamath River basin, which straddles Oregon and California, has long been the site of intense political fights over the sharing of scarce water between farms and fish. The agreements to remove the dams, hammered out by farmers, tribes, environmentalists and states, were a compromise to restore the river for imperiled salmon and steelhead and give farmers greater certainty about irrigation water. Congress must pass legislation to implement the agreements, but House Republicans have blocked it for years, fearing it would set a precedent for dam removal. In October, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden — a staunch dam-removal opponent whose Oregon district includes one of the dams — said he was close to drafting a bill in the House. He has not released any details. His office this week said the lawmaker would convene a meeting today with key Congressional leaders to discuss “a way forward” on Klamath Basin water issues. If there’s no legislation by the end of the year, when the agreements expire, several parties indicated they might abandon the settlement. “It’s not that we don’t believe in the deal, it’s that we’ve tried for years … and have not been able to get support in Congress,” said Craig Tucker, Klamath coordinator with the Karuk Tribe, one of four federally recognized tribes that support the agreements. “If we can get tribal leaders and ranchers to come to an agreement to share water, it’s shocking that we can’t bring our Congressmen along with us.” Relicensing of the Klamath dams with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses hydropower projects for 30 to 50 years, has been on hold for several years while groups negotiated for a federal bill...more

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