MEDFORD, Ore. - The utility that owns four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River has agreed to terms for their removal, a key milestone in efforts to restore what was once the third biggest salmon run on the West Coast and end decades of battles over scarce water.
PacifiCorp, the states of California and Oregon, American Indian tribes, federal agencies, irrigators and conservation groups announced the draft agreement Wednesday. Signing is expected by the end of the year.
Actual removal is not scheduled to start until 2020, and depends on full funding of the removal, a determination by the U.S. Secretary of Interior that it will actually help salmon and is in the public interest, and authorization form Congress.
"This agreement marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Klamath River and for the communities whose health and way of life depend on it," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. "Hats off to all the stakeholders who have worked so hard to find common ground on one of the most challenging water issues of our time."
PacifiCorp will not bear the estimated $450 million cost of removing the dams. Oregon has approved $180 million in surcharges on state ratepayers. Another $250 million depends on California approving general obligation bonds.
"If the federal government and the states of California and Oregon sign onto this negotiated final settlement, then we will join with them and all the other stakeholder groups that may choose to sign the agreement," PacifiCorp Chairman and CEO Greg Abel said in a statement.
The utility serves 1.6 million customers in Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, and is owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Warren Buffett's Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
"When the Klamath dams come down, it will be the biggest dam removal project the world has ever seen," Steve Rothert, California director for the conservation groups American Rivers, said in a statement. "We will be able to watch on a grand scale as a river comes back to life."