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Historic agreement allows U.S. dam demolition project to move forward

  • Historic agreement allows U.S. dam demolition project to move forward

Last week a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) was announced for the largest dam removal project in the history of the United States. The demolition will return the Klamath river in southern Oregon and northern California to a free-flowing condition, allowing salmon to regain access to hundreds of miles of historical habitat, reports Phys.org.

The demolition project, which contemplates the removal of four hydroelectric dams as a cornerstone of river restoration efforts, would be part of a trend towards the elimination of barriers that restrict native fish species, as dams get older and become less economically viable.

The efforts to address issues in the Klamath basin started more than two decades ago, with the involvement of a whole host of interests – tribes, anglers, farmers, ranchers, homeowners, environmentalists – that represent competing demands for water resources. Those in favour of the demolition had hoped the work would begin in 2022, but the complex process of negotiations and approvals is still ongoing.

In July 2020 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an Order questioning whether the nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) – formed in 2016 under the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) to oversee the removal project – could respond to cost overruns or potential accidents. A key provision of the KHSA was that PacificCorp, owner and operator of the dams, would transfer its ownership and operator’s licensee to the KRRC, to avoid any liability for the dam removal process in the future. But the July 2020 FERC Order included a new condition to approve the plan, and that is that Pacific Corp remained a co-licensee, something not acceptable by PacificCorp, thereby sending the parties of the KHSA back to the negotiation table.

And it did not take too long this time. On November 17, Berkshire Hathaway-owned PacifiCorp, the States of California and Oregon, the Karuk and Yurok Tribes, and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) announced a new MoA that describes how the parties will proceed with implementation of the amended KHSA and, ultimately, dam removal. It proposes to add the states of Oregon and California as co-licensees, while removing PacificCorp from the license, plus an additional $45 million to the project budget of $450 million as a contingency fund. With the new MoA in place, the project is again pending approval from FERC.

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