Triplicate Staff

Yurok officials set to attend Thursday's hearing in Washington

Legislation to remove four Klamath River dams and pump $500 million toward basin restoration will receive its first congressional hearing Thursday.

It's based on an historic compromise reached in 2010 between stakeholders of the Klamath Basin including farmers in need of irrigation water, tribes wanting water for salmon, environmental organizations that want a restored river and commercial ocean salmon fishermen wanting to restore Klamath salmon runs.

PacifiCorp, owner and operator of the dams, has agreed to remove them if Congress authorizes it, saying the cost of removal will be less than the cost of federally mandated upgrades for fish passage. The company has already begun collecting surcharges from its customers to help fund dam removal.

Del Norte County elected officials have mostly stayed on the sidelines for the Klamath settlement talks, although Sheriff Dean Wilson has publicly opposed the removal of dams.

The Yurok Tribe is one of the three Klamath Basin-based tribes that have long supported the settlement deals. Two other tribes, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Resighini Rancheria (based in Del Norte) oppose the settlement deals because of the amount of tribal rights the deals surrender, among other reasons.

The controversial legislation is receiving its first congressional hearing at the behest of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The compromise reached by the settlements has become even more crucial recently as the Klamath Tribes, also a signatory to the Klamath settlements, recently called in its senior water rights in the basin. The tribes' water rights were recently upheld in court to be the most senior in the basin and in a dry water year, like this one, the tribes calling their rights will shut down irrigation water for farmers in the upper basin.

The Yurok Tribe is sending a delegation to Washington, D.C., for the hearing, including Chairman Thomas P. O'Rourke Sr., Tribal Council members Jack Mattz and David Gensaw, and Executive Director Troy Fletcher, who is scheduled to testify.

"The Yurok Tribe is the largest single harvester of Klamath River salmon and no one has more at stake in the success or failure of Klamath River fish stocks," Fletcher said. "Every activity within the Klamath River Basin has a potential impact on Yurok people.

" The Klamath agreements represent the most viable and expedient path to address many of these issues and to a healthy future for all Klamath Basin communities," Fletcher said. "We will make the case that the agreements, supported by a large majority of Klamath River stakeholders, are the best way to solve the Klamath crisis. We also understand that there will be more work to do."