Note: This Op-Ed was recently published in several newspapers.
On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board voted 5-0 to continue PacifiCorp’s water quality certificate abeyance, making it clear the rush to declare the Klamath River’s settlement agreements dead is premature.
Especially given the odd bedfellows created by the premature call for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) solution.
The Hoopa Tribe wanted the abeyance lifted and FERC to re-engage so the dams would come down faster. Meanwhile, Siskiyou County wanted the abeyance lifted and FERC involved because they believe it’s the best way to save the dams.
Siskiyou County is playing a dangerous game. Their legal argument for keeping the dams has been shot full of holes, and one wonders how much more money they’re willing to spend defending a position that effectively removes the county from discussions while costing its citizens jobs and potentially higher electrical rates.
Sadly, Siskiyou County is trying to usher the dam relicensing process toward the worst possible conclusion. Under a FERC decommissioning the county would receive nothing, the lawsuits over water and restoration would continue and the dams may eventually come out anyway because removing them is less expensive than retrofitting them. And if the county gets its wish and the dams stay in, the vast majority of Siskiyou County ratepayers who are PacifiCorp customers will end up paying more for electricity, according to the company and the California Public Utilities Commission. Under the settlement agreement PacifiCorp ratepayers’ obligations are capped at $200 million. Absent the agreements ratepayers costs are certain to go up as all other alternatives are more expensive for PacifiCorp and the ratepayers.
That would be a terrible deal for Siskiyou County, especially considering the estimated 4,600 jobs that would be generated by the settlement agreements. Siskiyou County should rethink the impact their head-in-the-sand approach will have on county residents (like landowners around Copco Lake, who have been especially poorly represented) and instead engage with the process to ensure county residents are better represented.
As for the Hoopa Tribe’s position, we understand the desire to remove the dams quickly, but a return to the clumsy, divisive FERC process guarantees a long and contentious path to dam removal — if dam removal at all. FERC has never ordered dam removal and setting the legal precedent for them to do so could take decades.
The settlement agreements represent the quickest path to dam removal, clean water, healthy fish returns and community health in the Klamath Basin.
Fixing problems before they blossom into full-blown disasters — like the 2002 fish kill or the 2001 irrigation water shutoff — is always cheaper than repairing them after the fact; eliminating the cyclical emergency responses — and their attendant, unanticipated costs — is a key goal of the settlement agreements.
It’s true the two bills that would fully implement the settlement agreements will likely not be acted on this year, but in a wildly partisan Congress deadlocked over even the tiniest issues, the only things that made any progress at all were bile and rancor.
Meanwhile, the implementation of the settlement agreements continues. PacifiCorp is investing in meaningful interim measures to improve habitat, water quality and flows.
The dam removal trust account sits at $35 million and is growing by over $1 million per month. All these benefits go away if PacifiCorp and settlement parties are forced back to the FERC process.
The settlement agreements represent a solution to the Klamath Basin’s water and fish problems negotiated by citizens and stakeholders with skin in the game, not a distant, dysfunctional Congress or a faceless bureaucracy.
Abandoning the settlements because of the foolish actions — or inaction in this case — of a few politicians isn’t just pointless; it’s also a surrender to the lack of progress, fish kills, irrigation water shutdowns, lawsuits and fighting of the past.
Curtis Knight is California Trout’s conservation director for California Trout. He lives in Mount Shasta.