Local leaders say they are dismayed with the renewed effort to demolish four Klamath River dams, three of which are in California.
Siskiyou County Supervisor Grace Bennett, District 4, said she feels like Siskiyou County lawmakers were left behind in the decision-making process. Bennett said she believes lawmakers prioritize the needs of upper Klamath Basin communities and the downstream Basin tribes before Siskiyou County.
Bennett said she believes taking the dams out will have a negative impact on the county’s economy, especially in the summer months when the reservoirs attract recreationists from around the region.
“Siskiyou County has been working since 1986 to improve water quality and quantity. For them to take out the dams would be a shame. It would be devastating to Siskiyou County. It would impact us greatly,” Bennett said.
Bennett’s comments came on the heels of an announcement last week by the Department of Interior, stating the agency will work with Oregon, California and the dams owner, PacifiCorp, to amend the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and move forward with plans to remove the J.C. Boyle, Copco 1 and Copco 2 and Iron Gate dams from the Klamath River.
The renewed effort will rely on administrative processes governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a news release said.
Siskiyou County Supervisor Ed Valenzuela, District 2, said he is concerned about property values declining after the reservoirs created by the dams disappear. He said although to him the benefits of dam removal are not obvious, he isn’t altogether contesting dam removal.
“I’ve always said it’s a private party matter. It’s not like it’s a government entity, where the county has a lot of say,” Valenzuela said.
Klamath County Commissioner Jim Bellet said he opposes dam removal, but supports private property rights.
“I don’t like tearing out infrastructure I think is important to the Klamath River, but a private company owns the dams and if they want to tear them out, it’s sure their right to do that,” Bellet said.
Malin Irrigation District Manager Luke Robison said his district supported the KHSA when it was being proposed as a joint agreement with the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
“We were never in support of the KHSA as a stand-alone agreement,” Robison said. “The agreement (the KBRA) that benefited the irrigators expired on December 31.”
Tulelake Irrigation District Manager Brad Kirby said the biggest concern shared by project irrigators is getting left behind without a path to water certainty and having the dam removal move forward. Kirby said like other irrigators, he does not support dam removal as a stand-alone effort.
“All the things that were part of the KBRA were a package deal,” Kirby said.
District 1 Siskiyou County Supervisor Brandon Criss agreed.
“There’s no need for the dams to be removed,” Criss said. “I see no benefit to Klamath Basin agriculture because it takes away water storage and replaces it with no water storage.”
Oregon Rep. Gail Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, said she believes the decision about whether the dams should be removed belongs with FERC.
“I typically am not in support of removing dams, but I think to go through the FERC process is the way to go if we’re going to do it so it’s not a political decision.”
“FERC has traditionally decided if dams come out or if don’t dams come out … Hopefully they will base it on the science,” she said. “To turn it over to FERC is the right path, versus deciding politically whether to do that.”