Up and down the Klamath River, one issue overshadows all others: the proposed removal of four hydro-electric dams.
Proponents of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and related hydro-electric agreement, support (although some support begrudgingly) removal of four of the dams. Others, such as owners of property along the shores of reservoirs created by the dams, are adamantly opposed.
No matter what, something will happen with the dams. If they aren't removed, their owner and operator, PacifiCorp, will have to engineer some changes to meet relicensing requirements.
■ Dam removal
Federal government to determine fate of dams
The fate of four of the six Klamath River dams is in the hands of federal lawmakers.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who represents the northern coast and the mouth of the Klamath River, introduced legislation in November 2011 that would fund two agreements advocating dam removal.
If Congress approves and funds the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the related Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, and if Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar determines that dam removal is in the public's interest, the dams will come out sometime after 2020.
There are obstacles.
The agreements could cost more than $1 billion - $799 million for the KBRA and up to $290 million for dam removal. And there is opposition to the idea of tearing down sources of renewable energy.
U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., of the sprawling 4th District in the northeast corner of the state, has stepped out as a staunch opponent of dam removal. McClintock chairs the House Subcommittee on Water and Power, where the bill was introduced in November. He denounced dam removal on the House floor in September.
"Amidst a spending spree that threatens to bankrupt this nation, amidst spiraling electricity prices and chronic electricity shortages - to tear down four perfectly good hydroelectric dams at enormous cost is insane," McClintock said.
Fishermen, environmental groups and tribal leaders say dam removal would improve anadromous fish habitat and help commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries. PacifiCorp officials say removing the dams would cost the company and its customers less than relicensing them.
An $18 million U.S. Department of the Interior study, released in September 2011, said removing the dams would cost between $247 million and $290 million.
The alternative - meeting relicensing requirements which include building fish ladders - would cost about $300 million and would reduce the dams' potential power output by about 25 percent, said Bob Gravely, spokesman for PacifiCorp, which owns the dams.
Under the agreements, the amount Pacific Power customers would pay for dam removal is capped at $200 million. There is no cap on the amount customers would pay to upgrade the dams to meet relicensing standards.
The company has added a 2 percent surcharge to Oregon customers' bills and last month added a similar charge to California customers' bills. The money collected will pay for either dam relicensing or removal.
If dam removal costs more than $200 million, as expected, Californians would pay the rest - up to $250 million - with funding from a statewide bond measure, the $11 billion Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012. Passing such a bond measure in cash-strapped California is another obstacle, Gravely said.
A yet-to-be-named federal agency, not PacifiCorp, would be in charge of removing the dams, said Toby Freeman, regional community manager for Pacific Power.
The dams would be removed in much the same way they were built, Freeman said. Earthen dams, such as Iron Gate, would have to be removed one dump truck load at a time. Concrete and steel dams, such as Copco No. 1, likely would be easier to remove, with large sections cut apart and hauled away, he said.