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Interior draft EIS recommends removing four Klamath hydro projects

WASHINGTON 9/22/11 (PennWell) -- A draft environmental impact statement (EIS) by the Department of Interior and the state of California recommends removal of four hydroelectric developments on the Klamath River at an estimated cost of more than $291 million to ratepayers and taxpayers.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar hailed the draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report and accompanying scientific and technical studies.

"The science and analysis is vital to sound decision making, but I also look forward to hearing from the people of the Klamath Basin who have endured a long cycle of irrigation shortages, fishing closures, poor water quality, fish disease and a large salmon die-off in 2002, and closure of the tribal fishery in Upper Klamath Lake for 25 years," Salazar said Sept. 21.

Interior's Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Fish and Game are taking comments until Nov. 21 on their joint environmental impact statement, which can be obtained on the Internet at www.klamathrestoration.gov. Under terms of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, Salazar is to make a final decision on dam removal based on review of the data and public input. That decision is expected in March.

Framework agreements call for removing the dams by 2020 if Congress and Interior Department scientists approve.

Studies predict improved salmon harvest

Interior said the studies found that, over several decades, dam removal and a watershed-wide restoration program could increase significantly salmon harvests in the river and ocean, eliminate toxic algae blooms in reservoirs, and restore more normal water temperatures for salmon in the Klamath River in Oregon and California.

Utility PacifiCorp had been seeking a relicense for the 161.338-MW Klamath hydroelectric project (No. 2082) in Oregon and California when environmental and fishing groups and state and federal resources agencies launched a campaign to remove the project. A 2009 settlement agreement calls for removal of the utility's main Klamath River hydropower plants and dams, 90.338-MW J.C. Boyle, 20-MW Copco 1, 27-MW Copco 2, and 18-MW Iron Gate and transfer of the non-powered Keno Dam to the Interior Department.

The full hydroelectric project also includes the 3.2-MW East Side and 600-kW West Side developments, which PacifiCorp proposed to decommission voluntarily, and the 2.2-MW Fall Creek development, on a Klamath River tributary.

PacifiCorp was brought to the table when faced by mandatory fishway prescriptions by Interior and the Commerce Department that would render the hydro project no longer economical to operate.

Dam removal would require replacement of about 716,800 megawatt-hours, most likely by more expensive electricity sources. The studies also found dam removal could result in small increases in long-term flood risks and a short-term effect on juvenile fish populations from the release of sediment built up behind the project dams. Dam removal also would eliminate some recreational opportunities on drained Klamath reservoirs, reduce whitewater rafting opportunities, and decrease property values of some landowners.

Although the Klamath settlement agreement set a cap of $450 million for dam removal, the Interior studies said the "most probable estimate" to remove the four dams and carry out mitigation is $291.6 million, in 2020 dollars. The settlement agreement calls for no more than $200 million of dam removal costs to come from additional charges to PacifiCorp ratepayers, while up to $250 million would come from sale of bonds in California "or other means deemed appropriate financing mechanisms."

The Interior studies also said dam removal would support about 1,400 jobs during the one-year dam removal process, 4,600 jobs over 15 years of implementing restoration programs, and about 450 annual commercial fishing jobs.

Congressman calls dam removal plan 'lunacy'

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., condemned the plan "to destroy four perfectly good hydroelectric dams" in remarks Sept. 22 on the House floor.

"The cost of this madness is currently pegged at a staggering $290 million -- all at the expense of ratepayers and taxpayers," McClintock said. "But that's just the cost of removing the dams. Consumers will face permanently higher prices for replacement power, which, we're told, will be wind and solar. Not only are wind and solar some three times more expensive, but wind and solar require equal amounts of reliable stand-by power -- which is precisely what the dams provide."

The congressman said the public is being told it is less expensive to remove the dams than for PacifiCorp to meet cost-prohibitive environmental requirements.

"If that is the case, then maybe we should re-think those requirements, not squander more than a quarter-billion dollars to destroy existing hydroelectric dams," he said.

McClintock pledged to stop the dam removal plan in Congress.

"Fortunately, the president will need congressional approval to move forward with this lunacy, and that will require action by this House," he said. "Earlier this year, the House voted to put a stop to this nonsense. I trust it will exercise that same good judgment as this administration proceeds with its folly."


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