Jessica Cejnar / Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 @ 5:14 p.m.
'Make Noise,' Yurok Tribe Water Analyst Discusses PacifiCorp's New Stance On Klamath Dam Removal
The day after Congress passed a bill that included potential consequences to PacifiCorp if it reneged on an agreement to remove four Klamath River dams, the Yurok Tribe’s senior water policy analyst urged people to “make noise in anyway that you can.”
Speaking at a Salmonid Restoration Federation webinar Friday, Mike Belchik said the most effective way for those who don’t live along the Klamath River to support dam removal is to make the utility as uncomfortable as they can. Belchik encouraged attendees to write their Congressman, write letters to the editor and “make noise.”
“I’m not involved in organizing a direct action campaign, but I can say tribal members are fed up and they’re not going to sit around while this company dithers around and negotiates,” Belchik said.
On Thursday, Congressman Jared Huffman also referred to tribal communities along the Klamath River, stating that his amendment to H.R. 4447, the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, would help remediate existing problems along the river basin and guard against further harm to its ecosystem.
The Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement Tribal Fairness amendment would impose new relicensing conditions for PacifiCorp including a requirement that they comply with state and tribal recommendations to reduce harm to fisheries.
The amendment also requires the utility to disclose information related to water pollution, fish recovery, dam safety and the facilities’ financial status, according to a Thursday news release from Huffman’s office.
PacifiCorp owns the J.C. Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2 and Iron Gate dams, all of which are currently slated for removal in 2022.
However, the utility argues that a July 16 decision from federal regulators to partially transfer the dams’ operating license from PacifiCorp to the nonprofit spearheading their removal materially changes the terms of the 2016 Klamath River Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.
At a public hearing hosted by Huffman on Aug. 18, PacifiCorp representative Scott Bolton said the partial transfer was unexpected and makes the utility liable for all project costs and liabilities.
On Friday, Belchik said PacifiCorp filed a letter stating they felt a material breach of the KHSA had occurred. This action triggers a sixth-month meet and confer process.
The utility also entered into negotiations with KHSA members, which include the Yurok, Hoopa and Karuk tribes, to determine whether PacifiCorp will be a co-licensee of the dams or not, Belchik said.
“Failure’s not an option,” he said. “We’re not going to give up on this, no matter what. There’s no other river to go to. There’s no other battle. This isn’t entertainment, this is a way of life that's at stake.”
During the webinar, Belchik gave a history of the Klamath River’s biodiversity, which include four species of salmon, winter, summer and fall steelhead runs as well as eulachon, or candlefish. Many of these species are hanging on by a thread, Belchik said, noting that about a decade ago more than 100,000 fall chinook returned to the river.
The tribal quota for this year’s fall chinook run was 6,000 fish, Belchik said.
Belchik also noted that Thursday was the 18th anniversary of the 2002 Klamath River fish kill, which occurred when more than 34,000 fall chinook salmon fell prey to an outbreak of Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, or ich.
However, what isn’t as visible is the impact the parasite C. shasta has on juvenile salmonids, Belchik said. Both occur as a result of algal blooms exacerbated by the four dams, though climate change also plays a role, he said.
“If we remove the dams, we get access back to these areas of cold water,” Belchik said. “The tribe believes that if we’re going to move through climate change, dam removal is an issue of climate change stability. It’s the way we keep our salmon runs on the Klamath in the face of climate change.”
According to Belchik, when the Yurok Tribe and others began the effort to remove the dams, PacifiCorp wouldn’t discuss the issue. It took media and organizing to put pressure on the utility, he said.
In the early 2006 when PacifiCorp was undergoing the relicensing process with federal regulators, proponents of dam removal began studying the cost of dam removal. They also compared those costs with FERC's requirement that PacifiCorp install fish passage measures, such as ladders, to renew its license, Belchik said.
“The estimates were far higher than taking the dams out,” he said. “At that time… PacifiCorp came to the table and started saying, ‘Let’s talk about this.’ It wasn’t easy.”
The 2010 Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement was the original deal and called for federal legislation and the U.S. Government to be the dam removal agent, Belchik said. The original timeline for dam removal was 2020, but the needed legislation fell through and the agreement expired in 2015.
In 2016, the states of Oregon and California, area tribes and PacificCorp signed the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, which created the Klamath River Renewal Corporation. A $200 million surcharge from PacifiCorp customers is going toward the dam removal project as is $250 million in California water bond dollars.
KRRC went through California’s environmental review process and last year hired the largest construction company, Kiewit International, to spearhead the process. Houston-based Restoration Environmental Solutions will oversee restoration work and subsequent lawsuits generated by dam removal in the years following the project, Belchik said.
“(KRRC) has got 90 percent completion on construction, engineering and restoration plans,” he said. “They’ve crawled all over the dams, into the tunnels and have refined these plans all the way down and refined budget estimates.”
In the upper basin, the State of Oregon is working on a reintroduction plan with both upriver and downriver tribes, Belchik said. This plan calls for “active reintroduction of chinook” and passive reintroduction of steelhead, he said.
“For steelhead, they’ll take the dams out and let them do their thing,” he said.
Belchik urged people to visit the KRRC website for more information about dam removal as well as how to take direct action in support of the project.
Salmonid Restoration Federation spokeswoman Dana Stolzman said a future webinar, likely in November, will include input from a KRRC representative. The federation’s webinars are held the fourth Friday of each month.