Laura Jo Welter, The Triplicate

Federal, state and tribal leaders hail deal to undam the Klamath

REQUA - Historic agreements that should initiate four long-awaited dam removals and set in motion a massive salmon restoration project were signed on the mouth of the Klamath River on Wednesday morning by state, federal and tribal leaders.

Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell joined a host of others on a stage fashioned from boat docks on the Yurok Reservation to express their commitment to un-damming the Klamath, in spite of Congress' failure to pass the necessary backing legislation by 2015.

Finding a compromise that works for the people throughout the Klamath Basin, and one that will work even without congressional approval, "by working together is the way American politics should work. This is the absolute essence of non-extremism and non-polarization," Gov. Jerry Brown said, adding the historic move would have "implications all over the world."

"We're starting to get it right," Brown said of the efforts to undo damage made by a century of river obstruction.

The Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, what's being referred to as the largest restoration project in U.S. history, will open up 500 miles of steelhead habitat, said Trout Unlimited's Brian Johnson.

By following a process laid out by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the four hydroelectric dams owned by PacficCorp -J.C. Boyle, Iron Gate and Copco 1 and 2 - will be decommissioned and handed over to a newly established private company. The company, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, will see to the dam removal in 2020.

The removal plan will be submitted to the FERC for approval on or around July 1.

"We believe that this is a very constructive process with all kinds of reasons why the dams should come down. FERC is a sensible, thoughtful organization that understands that," Jewell said after the signing ceremony. "The science is clear, the interests of the people are clear.

During her address to the crowd, she said: "The largest limiting factor for the Klamath fishery is the dams."

And after four years of drought, repeated fish-kill scares and a meager outlook for the upcoming salmon season, revitalizing the Klamath becomes a critical issue, particularly for those who are trying to subsist on the fish.

But before the contentious fighting over water rights is laid to rest, the river welcomes the return of salmon and indigenous people are able to catch their subsistence, there's more to be done.

Wednesday's pacts salvage only the dam removal portion of hard-fought agreements reached in 2010 meant to resolve water issues between irrigators and tribes, see fish habitat restored and the region's ranching and farming economies sustained.

"The mission of our organization does not include dam removal, but we respect and congratulate the parties involved," said Scott White, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. "We are concerned that the amended (agreement) is moving forward without the full package that we were willing to support.

Namely, White said, it lacks "water and power security" for families and farms in the Upper Basin.

Don Gentry, chair of the Klamath Tribes of Oregon, noted "significant problems" with habitat in the Upper Basin that will need to be restored before the fish can return.

"We have but a remnant of what our creator blessed us with," Gentry said.

Signatories to the agreements, including PacificCorp, the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath tribes and the Klamath Water Users Association, have committed to working out deals in the next year that would resolve these issues.

"I want to reassure the tribes that we will continue to push to make sure that their voices are represented and heard," said Jewell. "All the tribes that rely on these waters were not represented in the signing ceremony, but we invite all the tribes to the table to be part of this agreement."

Dam removal is only the first chapter of the story, Gov. Kate Brown said. She said she was just as committed to the second chapter, the one that "tells of healing the Klamath Basin."

"Our ancestors told the Yurok people to take care of the salmon," said Vice Chair David Gensaw. "Once those salmon are gone, so are the Yurok people. We don't plan to go anywhere. We plan to have those fish here for future generations, for many, many thousands of years to come."

Reach Laura Jo Welter at lwelter@triplicate.com

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