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August 7, 2020
Klamath River Restoration and Dam Renewal
The Klamath River Basin (Figure 1)—a 12,000 square mile
stakeholders and continued to operate the project under
area on the California-Oregon border—is a focal point for
temporary annual licenses.
discussions on water allocation and species protection.
These issues have generated conflict among farmers, Indian
Figure 1. Klamath River Basin and Proposed Dam
tribes, fishermen, water project and wildlife refuge
Removal Project Reach
managers, environmental groups, hydropower facility
operators, and state and local governments. This In Focus
provides background on the basin, with a focus on the
proposed removal of four Klamath River dams.
Much of the Upper Klamath Basin relies on economic
activity supported by irrigated agriculture and the Bureau of
Reclamation’s (Reclamation’s) Klamath Project within the
U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). Other farmers and
ranchers also rely on basin water supplies not associated
with the Klamath Project (off project). Further, six national
wildlife refuges rely on basin waters to sustain migratory
bird habitat, and several Native American tribes historically
depended on lower and upper basin fish species.
Mitigating the effects of water management, habitat
alteration, and other factors on listed species under the
Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. §§1531 et seq.) is
a perennial issue in the basin. Two species of upper basin

fish are currently listed as endangered under the ESA—the
Source: Klamath River Renewal Corporation, 2018.
Lost River sucker and the shortnose sucker. In the lower
Note: The figure identifies four dams proposed for removal.
basin, the coho salmon is listed as threatened. Conflicts in
the basin first came to a head in 2001, when, as a result of
Klamath Settlement Agreements
previous biological opinions, Reclamation severely
In 2010, the Secretary of the Interior, governors of Oregon
curtailed water deliveries to the Klamath Project to provide
and California, PacifiCorp, and 44 other parties announced
more water for endangered fish. Subsequent issues,
two interrelated settlement agreements intended to resolve
including a major fish kill of Chinook salmon on the Lower
long-standing issues in the basin: the Klamath Basin
Klamath River in 2002, resulted in federally led settlement
Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the Klamath
talks in the 2000s.
Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). The KBRA
proposed actions to restore Klamath fisheries and
The basin contains seven dams on the Klamath River and
assurances for water deliveries to wildlife refuges and
its tributaries, built between 1918 and 1962. Six of these
project irrigators, among other things. The KHSA laid out a
dams are owned by PacifiCorp, a regulated utility. These
process for removal of four of PacifiCorp’s dams; after a
dams are known collectively as the Klamath Hydroelectric
secretarial determination on dam removal, the dams would
Project (KHP). Historically, all but one of the dams have
be transferred to DOI, which would oversee
produced hydroelectric power for the basin, including low-
decommissioning. The dam removal project would be one
cost power for Klamath Project irrigators. The original
of the largest and most complex ever undertaken. A third
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license to
agreement involving off-project irrigators in the Upper
operate the KHP expired in 2006. In 2004, PacifiCorp
Klamath Basin was finalized in 2014.
applied for relicensing of the project, and, in 2007, FERC
staff issued a final environmental impact statement for the
The Klamath settlement agreements were contingent on
application. FERC analyzed various alternatives for the
passage of federal legislation authorizing numerous new
application, ultimately recommending a new license with
federal activities in the basin. Legislation approving the
mandatory prescriptions to create fish ladders that would
agreements was introduced and received hearings in the
cost hundreds of millions of dollars to implement and result
113th and 114th Congress but was not enacted. Despite this,
in net operating losses for the project. At this time,
some work under the KBRA and KHSA has proceeded
PacifiCorp entered into basin settlement negotiations with
under existing authorities: studies to inform the secretarial
determination on dam removal were completed (the

Klamath River Restoration and Dam Renewal
determination was not made, due to lack of authority), and
salmonids, and avoid the need to implement other costly
some actions under the KBRA have been implemented
mitigation measures. Some scientists question these points
under existing authorities. After some argued that Congress
and suggest that conservation benefits associated with dam
was unlikely to act on the agreements, removal of the
removal are uncertain. Removal of the Klamath dams has
Klamath River dams proceeded on a track that no longer
been opposed by some, in particular some of the basin’s
requires congressional action, as discussed below.
local officials in Oregon and California. Opponents argue
against the loss of hydropower, recreational, and flood
Recent Events: Transfer and Removal of Lower
control benefits associated with the dams, and worry about
Klamath River Dams
flooding, pollution, and other hazards related to removal.
In 2016, the parties amended KHSA to not require the
transfer of dams to DOI, thus avoiding the need for
Near the end of the Obama Administration, Secretary Sally
congressional authorization. The amended KHSA lays out a
Jewell voiced DOI’s formal support for the 2016 FERC
process for PacifiCorp to transfer the dams slated for
applications to transfer and remove the KHP dams, in part
removal to a new nonprofit entity, the Klamath River
based on federal studies of dam removal dating to the 2010
Renewal Corporation (KRRC). Under the KHSA, KRRC is
KHSA. These studies analyzed dam removal alternatives
to be funded by PacifiCorp surcharges in Oregon ($184
and impacts, and informed dam removal plans by the
million) and California ($16 million), as well as bond
KRRC. The most recent dam removal plan before FERC
funding from the State of California ($250 million). KRRC
was laid out in a Definite Plan Report published by KRRC
is led by a 15-member board appointed by the governors of
in 2018. The plan would draw down KHP reservoirs over
California and Oregon, the Karuk and Yurok tribes, and
the course of 2-3 months, with the four main dam facilities
conservation and fishing groups.
removed simultaneously over the 20 months thereafter. The
timeline and approach in the report is reportedly intended to
In 2016, PacifiCorp and KRRC applied for FERC approval
minimize high suspended sediment loads that could
to transfer the license for the Lower Klamath Project (i.e.,
negatively affect aquatic resources.
the four dams slated for removal) and to surrender and
decommission the project. PacifiCorp was to continue to
Costs are another concern of dam removal for stakeholders.
operate the project until dam removal began. KRRC
As of early 2020, total dam removal project costs (including
timelines anticipated FERC approval in 2019 or 2020, with
project reserves) were estimated at $445 million. The
dam removal beginning in 2022. On July 16, 2020, FERC
amended KHSA includes a maximum cost cap of $450
issued an order conditionally approving a partial transfer of
million. Thus while costs are still below their required
the license for the Lower Klamath Project. FERC approved
threshold, they are approaching the level at which parties
a partial transfer of the project license from PacifiCorp to
might have to reconvene to secure additional funding.
KRRC, requiring that PacifiCorp remain a co-licensee.
FERC explained that public interest requires PacifiCorp to
Significance of Klamath Dam Removal
remain as a co-licensee because it has experience operating
Removal of the Klamath Dams is a historic undertaking that
the project and “additional [financial] resources as well as
has received widespread attention due to the project’s
experience in removing a major project.” This order does
magnitude. Never before have so many large dams been
not include the surrender and removal of the dams as
removed from a single river, at one time. Many are
proposed by the KRRC; FERC determined this is to be a
interested in the project as a proof-of-concept for other
separate ruling.
complex dam removals. Some have expressed hope that the
amended KHSA model—in which a private dam owner
Following the ruling, PacifiCorp issued a statement
transfers dams for removal in exchange for liability
asserting that FERC’s partial approval “denies the customer
protections—might be used for other dam removals.
protections” that it negotiated in the amended KHSA.
FERC’s ruling could render this less likely. However,
Based on this, some contend that the ruling poses
PacifiCorp and other parties may yet come to a revised
uncertainties for the dam removal plan. PacifiCorp has
agreement to remove the dams within FERC’s conditions.
pledged to reconvene settlement parties to determine next
Regardless, if the Klamath dam removal effort goes
steps and noted its belief that negotiations remain preferable
forward, the cost of the project and status of restoration are
to the FERC relicensing process. Observers note that if
likely to receive close scrutiny.
PacifiCorp terminates involvement with the amended
KHSA, it would still need to pursue the relicensing process
Congressional interest in dam removal relates to what role
that has been on hold since 2006, and which would likely
(if any) the federal government should have in studying and
be more expensive than dam removal as a co-licensee.
executing specific projects, FERC’s role in approving the
proposed removal of certain nonfederally owned dams, and
Dam Removal Considerations
what, if any, federal incentives or authorities should be
KHSA parties and other interests support the removal of the
available for the removal (or maintenance) of aging dams.
Klamath dams due to the potential benefits for basin
fisheries, habitat, and water quality. Specifically, DOI
Charles V. Stern, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
projected that dam removal would open more than 420
Pervaze A. Sheikh, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
miles of historic salmon spawning habitat and improve
water quality. Further, DOI noted that it would lower
mortality at the generators, eliminate reservoirs that
produce temperature and dissolved-oxygen problems for

Klamath River Restoration and Dam Renewal

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