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Dam Removal Draws Closer

By Holly Dillemuth for Herald & News Jan 28, 2020


Extremely likely.

That’s how Dave Meurer, community liaison for Klamath River Renewal Corporation, describes the possibility of the removal of four dams along the Klamath River.

The draw-down of John C. Boyle, Copco 1 and 2, and Iron Gate Dams, and their removal, are set to begin starting in January 2022, pending a decision for the go-ahead by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to Meurer.

Meurer spoke with Herald and News recently about the dam removal process and the “prep work” behind it, as well as how close KRRC is to obtaining the license from FERC, which is set to make a decision this spring.

“We hope that FERC will be in the position to make a decision in March,” Meurer said.

“We’re in a situation where losing a month or two can actually mean losing a year.”

The guaranteed maximum price for dam removal will be included in information filed with FERC at the end of February, Meurer said, noting that how the funds are to be allocated is still being determined.

“$450 million is what has been allocated for the project,” Meurer said. “And then within that $450 million, the costs are being refined of who is going to be spending what on what.”


Meanwhile, priorities for the nonprofit includes getting infrastructure ready, such as design and replacement of a waterline for the city of Yreka, through an agreement with Yreka’s City Council.

“It’s about a $4 million investment that KRRC will be making for the city because we would have affected their other water line,” Meurer said, noting there is no cost to city residents.

“That’s consistent with the approach that we told folks we’re going to take from day one,” he added. “We’re going to leave your infrastructure in as good or better condition than when we found it.”

While awaiting approval of two applications that would make it possible for KRRC to move along with facilitating dam removal, Meurer continues to answer questions about the project, speak about the anticipated impact on the Klamath Basin, and of the steps involved in removing the dams.

“What we are going to do is to create the removal of obstacles so that fish can pass freely,” Meurer said. “It’s a combination of things – it’s volitional fish passage but one of the corollary benefits is also going to be improved water quality.”

River sediment

As is, Meurer describes a sediment-starved Klamath River, a far cry from how sediment moves naturally through roaring rivers. He anticipates a free-moving river would also break up a disease common to fish in the river – C. shasta.

Hydroelectric reservoirs currently heat up artificially during the summer, Meurer said, which causes fluctuations in the river temperature at “odd” times.

“You’ve got theses pools of slow-moving water that heat up during the summer, and then help foster these algae blooms …. That’s an unhealthy water condition – it’s poor water quality,” he added. “Dam removal is going to address that in addition to opening up the river for fish where they’re not hitting a barrier.

“It will let the river basically behave like a river again,” Meurer added.

Meurer emphasized that while one of the reasons PacifiCorp decided to re-license is the surmounting cost of installing new fish ladders to the dams, including Iron Gate, which currently has none.

“Putting in fish passage alone would also not address the water quality problems that would continue to exist,” Meurer said. “The combination of putting in fish ladders and trying to address water quality issues would be in the $400-plus million range.”

PacifiCorp negotiated removal of the dams on behalf of their customers with a known, fixed cap of $200 million and up to $250 million in California bonds, rather than face unknown and uncapped costs, according to Meurer.

Uncapped costs refer to the possibility over the course of the dam’s 50-year license to add mandatory requirements if a new endangered species issue arises.

“The Public Utilities Commission in both Oregon and California have determined that implementation of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, which includes those cost protections for consumers and includes the dam removal project, that agreement has been determined to be in the best interest of the ratepayers,” Meurer said.

Fielding questions

Meurer often fields questions from those in opposition who ask why remove a working dam system or how agriculture would be impacted.

“The old way of doing things simply is not allowable under the law ... you can’t just leave them alone,” Meurer said.

“None of the water that is stored in hydroelectric reservoirs is used for agriculture,” he said. “It’s not used for municipal diversions. It’s not used for farms and ranchers – that water is used to produce hydro-power.”

He also emphasized that Upper Klamath Lake, the headwaters of the Klamath River, will look the same after the dams are taken out.

“We aren’t touching Upper Klamath Lake,” he said. “We’re not touching the facilities that provide ag water.

“You’ve got these facilities – yes, they work as designed, but new laws are in effect, and they prevent fish and federally protected fish species from accessing historic habitats,” he added. “Fish numbers are declining and that status quo is really not acceptable.”

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