Decision on Klamath dam removal delayed

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A contentious decision on whether four dams should be removed from the Klamath River Basin in California and Oregon may be delayed indefinitely pending Congressional guidance on how to balance the nation's policies governing hydroelectricity, fisheries, and dam removals.

Utility PacifiCorp owns four dams on the Klamath River and its tributaries whose license expired in 2006 and which are now targeted for removal.  After a lengthy and still-incomplete relicensing process and challenges by environmentalists, in 2010 PacifiCorp agreed to settle the dispute by seeking to remove the dams.  This settlement was documented in two key contracts, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

These documents set March 31, 2012 as the deadline by which the Secretary of Interior must issue a so-called "Secretarial Determination" as to whether to go ahead with dam removal.  Unless the Secretarial Determination calls for the removal of the dams, it would be expected to require PacifiCorp to continue its application for a new hydropower license for the dams.

However, in the Klamath Basin case, the Secretary cannot issue a Secretarial Determination calling for dam removal unless Congress first passes legislation authorizing the determination.  Congress does not appear likely to take action on the issue in the near term, prompting Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to issue a press release last month announcing his decision to defer issuance of a secretarial determination.  In that release, Secretary Salazar stated, "Because Congress has not enacted legislation necessary to authorize a Secretarial Determination under the terms of the KHSA, there will not be a decision by March 31, 2012 on potential removal of the dams."

Now that a Secretarial Determination is no longer expected by March 31, stakeholders expect the final studies and environmental analysis will be released this spring.  Will Congress ultimately act on the Klamath River dam removal proposals?

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