Klamath River Restoration Is Cheap Compared To Costs Of Doing Nothing

Opposition to Klamath River Restoration (the KBRA & KHSA) often focuses on the costs of the agreements; dam removal isn’t cheap, and neither is restoration of salmon and steelhead runs.

Still, dam removal seems cheap when compared to the cost of doing nothing, as noted by the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mike Conner in the Redding Record Searchlight:

On my trips to the basin, I have heard concerns about the costs of implementing the Klamath Agreements. I agree that we should have a vigorous discussion about the costs of the agreements, but this discussion must also consider the costs of not implementing these agreements — costs which are significant and real. Whether it is continuing uncertainty and limitations on water supplies and increased power costs for farmers, a continuation of fishing restrictions for the commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries (the Klamath Tribes, for example, have not had an open and sustainable lake fishery for more than 25 years), or more impacts on our wildlife refuges, maintaining the status quo would not be without significant cost.

A very real example of the cost of not implementing the agreements is one that would fall on all PacifiCorp ratepayers. PacifiCorp’s dams are now operating under an expired license. Under well-established law, if the facilities are relicensed, ratepayers will pay at least $460 million for legally required modifications to address fish passage and water quality needs, yet the facilities will generate 20% less power because of operational changes that would also be required. In other words, if the dams are not removed, the rate-paying public will pay more for less. Because of this, the public utilities Commissions of Oregon and California found that the settlement alternative, embodied in the Klamath Agreements, is in the best interests of ratepayers. Add to this the continued litigation, conflict in the community, costs associated with drought and fisheries closures, and disaster relief payments to keep working families whole, and suddenly the cost of doing nothing is very high.

Those fighting to retain the Klamath River dams — or worse, pretend nothing is wrong — would do well to examine the landscape of just a few years ago as well as the probable future should the KBRA/KHSA fail:

  • Klamath irrigators would still face huge uncertainties about water deliveries
  • Coho salmon would continue their spiral towards extinction
  • The dams would likely come down anyway, and PacifiCorp’s ratepayers would be on the hook for more than 2x the current costs
  • Should the dams remain, they would operate at a $20 million annual loss
  • Water quality and water temperature issues would continue to decimate Klamath salmon
  • The only people prospering would be trial lawyers
  • The dams would generate less energy — only 62 MW a year

Compared to the water security for irrigators, the economic boost of 4600 jobs, and a healthier fishier supporting commercial and recreational fishing industries, the choice does not appear to be a hard one.


  1. Cal Trout’s position on the Klamath dam and water deals has essentially been: either accept these deals or nothing will happen: the dams will stay in and there will be no restoration work done on the Klamath.

    That position is absurd.

    Restoration funds will be hard to come by in these times of austerity whether or not the Klamath deals go forward, are killed, or die of their own internal contradictions. But restoration will continue either way; in fact, we need to rely more on passive restoration – eliminating practices that cause habitat degradation – rather than using high price active restoration projects to mitigate the damage our management causes.

    The dams will come out either under the dam deal or via the normal FERC process. The only difference is how long it will take and who will pay. Under the KHSA dam deal which Cal Trout supports, PacifiCorp shareholders will get to walk away from all liability for toxic legacies around those 100 year old powerhouses. Shareholders will pay nothing for removal – taxpayers will pick up the tab along with electric ratepayers. The attempt to get legislation for these deals will delay dam removal indefinitely; it would be better to go back to the FERC process now.

    The KHSA Dam Deal amounts to a sweetheart corporate deal – a deal for the 1% which is not in the interest of the 99%. That is what Cal Trout is backing.

    There is always lots of mischief when folks go into the back rooms with biog corporate [power and irrigation interests to divide up public resources. To bad Cal Trout is involved in these bad deal.