U.S. agreement could lead to removal of Klamath project dams

The federal government, the states of California and Oregon, and project licensee PacifiCorp have reached an agreement in principle that could lead to removal of four dams in the 161.338-MW Klamath hydroelectric project.

PacifiCorp said the agreement represents �the first step down a presumptive path� toward historic resolution of Klamath River resource issues and the utility's Klamath River hydropower dams, 90.338-MW J.C. Boyle, 20-MW Copco 1, 27-MW Copco 2, and 18-MW Iron Gate. The project features six dams and seven powerhouses.

The agreement in principle, announced Nov. 13, provides a flexible framework for transfer of the dams to a government-designated dam removal entity. The agreement sets June 30, 2009, as the deadline for a final agreement. The Interior secretary would make a final decision on dam removal following an assessment to confirm dam removal is in the public interest. The total cost of removal is capped at $450 million.

California and Oregon public utility commissions would impose a surcharge on PacifiCorp customers to raise $200 million toward dam removal costs. In addition, California would seek voter approval of a general obligation bond that would include facilities removal funds of $250 million, to provide the total $450 million needed.

The agreement compels the federal government to scientifically assess the costs and benefits of dam removal. The U.S. is to make a final determination by March 31, 2012, whether the benefits of dam removal justify the costs. The determination would draw from scientific and engineering studies conducted in the interim, and in consultation with state, local, and tribal governments and other stakeholders. At that point, the U.S. would designate the dam removal entity or decline to remove the dams. If dam removal is declined, PacifiCorp would return to federal regulators to relicense the project (No. 2082).

PacifiCorp said the agreement recognizes a complex framework for dam removal that balances the timing of removal of each of the four dams with operating conditions and the costs of replacement power for PacifiCorp customers. The agreement provides a target date for dam removal of 2020.

The agreement also establishes protections for PacifiCorp customers from liability associated with any removal of the dams and limits the amount customers would pay toward environmental improvements and dam removal.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the government immediately would begin an engineering study and would seek legislation authorizing a feasibility study. The engineering study, Kempthorne said, would allow the government to start immediately analyzing removal of the dams while also providing the basis for the more detailed feasibility study to be completed by 2012.

In January, conservation groups, tribes, anglers, farms, and government agencies announced a proposed agreement among themselves to restore salmon to the Klamath River Basin and to work toward removal of Klamath project dams. (HNN 1/17/08) At that time, PacifiCorp -- not a party to that agreement �- labeled the plan a wish list.

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