Congressman Mike Thompson of California has introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives.
The bills authorize $536 million in federal funding to help resolve a historic conflict over water use in the Klamath and may be difficult to pass in a congress focused on spending cuts.
“There’s no question this is a heavy lift,” Merkley says. “But if we don’t start working to support the stakeholders, then there’s no chance of getting to the vision they’ve laid out.”
Merkley’s bill authorizes two legal settlement agreements: the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. The pair of deals represent a truce over water use reached by tribes, farmers who divert water from the Klamath river for irrigation, power company PacifiCorp, and groups that have sought to protect endangered salmon runs on the river. The agreements are complex, and involve land swaps, water conservation plans, land and river restoration, and the removal of four PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath river.
According to Merkley, the bill he has introduced will:
Authorize the U.S. Department of Interior to approve, sign, and implement the KBRA and KHSA.
Authorize the tribes involved and the U.S., in its capacity as their trustee, to make commitments and meet the obligations planned in the KBRA, as well as to relinquish their water rights claims in return for the commitments being made by other stakeholders.
Change the management of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Reclamation Project to align with the new management plan developed by local stakeholders.
Establish a process to plan for and implement dam removal, including the assessment that leads to a final decision on whether to proceed with dam removal; and clarify how removal of some dams and retention of others will be managed with respect to the FERC relicensing process.
Authorize the President to request appropriate funds as reflected in the KBRA budget documents and as necessary.
The hydroelectric settlement is intended to clear the way for the removal of four of PacifiCorp’s dams on the Klamath by 2020. It could be the largest dam removals in the region, larger than the tear-down now underway of the Elwha dams in Washington. The cost of removing the Klamath dams will be paid by PacifiCorp ratepayers. But the groups still need about half a billion dollars from the federal government for restoration projects
Thompson’s bill will almost certainly face opposition from members of the House concerned about the cost, but also from opponents of dam removal. Congressman Doc Hastings, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, has said he opposes the Klamath dam removal plan.
If Congress doesn’t sign off on the Klamath deal by March, the parties will have to re-open negotiations.
Congrats to David James for his winning submission, 'Annabella smelling the Balsam.'
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