While voters approved $2.76 billion for construction of new dams to improve water storage three years ago this month, none have received the go-ahead yet and probably never will as the bond provisions require local water customers to come up with matching funds to get the state money.
What I’ll bet you didn’t know is that $250 million of the Prop. 1 bond money is set aside to demolish four dams on the Klamath River in the far north counties of the state nestled along the Oregon border, with one, J.C. Boyle dam in southern Oregon, and the others, Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2, in Siskiyou County. The dams, now owned by Warren Buffet’s PacifiCorp, have served as hydroelectric suppliers, irrigation water providers, flood control systems and recreational facilities since their construction over a forty-year period from 1920 to 1960. They have been a target for environmentalists and Indian tribes in the area since the drought of 2001, when the Bush Administration lined up to provide water for farmers rather than let it flow to the Pacific to as water for salmon runs.
Six years later the government required PacifiCorp to spend $300 million to build fish ladders at one dam, which led the company to give up the fight. In September 2016, PacifiCorp and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), a non-profit organization supported by the enviros and tribes, submitted applications to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) seeking to transfer and surrender PacifiCorp’s hydropower license, proposed to transfer the dams to the non-profit and remove them with PacifiCorp paying $200 million toward the cost and the state chipping in the bond money.
To cloud the waters even further, Siskiyou County’s Board of Supervisors entered the fray at the FERC, saying it was both unwilling and unable to absorb the costs related to the dam removal for things like: “20-30 million cubic yards of sediment release, risk of catastrophic floods, inability to provide pulse flows for fisheries benefit, property value loss in the areas around the dams, county tax base loss, and funding loss to Siskiyou County schools.” This brouhaha is likely going to last a while.
By Dave Sorem, ECA Government Arrairs Chairman