Out of two local governing bodies that heard presentations on Klamath dam removal this week, only the Crescent City Harbor District took action in support of the endeavor.

The harbor district’s decision on Tuesday wasn’t unanimous despite impassioned testimony from the public urging commissioners to approve a letter to the California Water Resources Control Board on behalf of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation’s application for a Clean Water Act section 401 certification in connection with the dam removal project.

Harbor Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of the support letter. After trying to table the issue until they had more information, Commissioners Brian Stone and Wes White dissented.

On Monday, after hearing a presentation from KRRC Community Liaison Dave Meurer and taking public comment, the Crescent City Council agreed to discuss a similar letter of support at its Feb. 19 meeting.

However, Councilor Jason Greenough said he disagreed with drafting a letter of support before he and his colleagues “have all the information.”

“I would like to hear from PacifiCorp,” Greenough said. “I would like to hear from Siskiyou County. I would like to hear from the one up north who has no opinion. They’re neutral, why are they neutral? I would like to know that.”

Mayor Blake Inscore asked City Manager Eric Wier to have a staff report on the Klamath River dam removal project and the potential letter of support to the Water Resources Control Board before the Feb. 19 agenda is posted.

Wier said that would depend on the other agencies including Siskiyou County, which opposes dam removal, and Klamath County in Oregon, which is neutral on the project. Wier said he was meeting with Pacific Power representatives on Tuesday. He said he would try to draft a report for the City Council by early next week.

The road to dam removal

In a presentation to the Crescent City Harbor District, Bob Gravely, public information officer for Pacific Power, gave a bit of history on efforts to remove four dams on the Klamath River. The dams slated for removal are the J.C. Boyle in Klamath County, Oregon; Copco 1 and 2 and the Iron Gate dams in Siskiyou County, California, Gravely said. All were part of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, he said.

The dams that will remain on the Klamath River are the Link River and Keno dams, both of which are in Klamath County, Oregon, according to Gravely. These dams will continue to be used by the Bureau of Reclamation for water management and irrigation, he said.

“To go back to how this all came together, PacifiCorp was relicensing the hydro project in the early 2000s,” Gravely said, adding that the license expired in 2006. “The company was in the process of extending that license. At the same time, there have been a long history of water conflicts in the Klamath Basin, tribes and irrigators and issues of fish and other resources, and so at the time the company was relicensing the hydro project, there were also discussions on how to resolve these issues.”

These discussions led to the formation of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. According to Gravely, this agreement included PacifiCorp, which owns the hydroelectric project, but wasn’t prepared to remove the dams themselves. The settlement agreement also included a water-sharing agreement with tribes and irrigators, he said.

This agreement was slated for Congressional approval, however that process stalled in 2015 and the agreement to restore the basin expired, Gravely said.

In his presentation before the Crescent City Council on Monday, Meurer said the states of California and Oregon, the U.S. departments of the Interior and Commerce, PacifiCorp, conservation groups and tribes signed on to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement in 2016. The agreement authorizes removal of the four Klamath River dams and provides cost and liability protection for PacifiCorp, Meurer said.

“PacifiCorp did not want to be the dam removal entity; they wanted someone else to do that,” he told the council. “We’re that someone else. We’re fully funded through a PacifiCorp utility surcharge — $200 million is available to us from PacifiCorp. California also ponied up an additional $250 million from the Prop 1 water bond. It’s up to $250 million. If there’s any change left over, they want it back.”

According to Gravely, the project funding coming from Pacific Power customers is capped at $200 million. When the utility went through the process of potentially relicensing the dams in the early 2000s, the federal agencies managing fish mandated improvements, such as fish ladders, that would cost the utility an estimated $300 million, he said.

“When we were negotiating the settlement agreement, in order to get approval from our regulators, the Public Utility Commission, we had to say that this will cost our customers less than what we think relicensing will cost,” Gravely said. “What we negotiated was $200 million.”

During his presentation before the city council on Monday, Meurer showed a photo of polychete worms hugging a rock on the river. He noted the worms are a host for a fish disease, C. Shasta, that currently infects 90 percent of the juvenile salmon on the river.

“Dam removal will help hammer the disease by letting sediment flow, sand and gravel, stuff that scours,” he said. “It’ll change the disease process and break it up to the point where the Bureau of Reclamation issued a report (stating) that if you remove the dams you will substantially reduce the disease.”

Meurer said historic fall chinook runs numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Now it’s so low, fisheries belonging to Native American tribes on the Klamath River have suspended their operations.

Permitting process
and project timeline

KRRC is planning to begin the dam removal project in January 2021. The nonprofit corporation has applied for a Clean Water Act Section 401 permit from the California Water Resources Control Board for the removal of the Copco No. 1 and No. 2 and Iron Gate dams.

The Water Resources Control Board is in the process of gathering public comment on a draft environmental impact report in response to KRRC’s request. The board held a public hearing in Arcata on Wednesday and is accepting public comment on the draft EIR until Feb. 26.

That’s just one part of the permitting process. A key hurdle KRRC is addressing is petitioning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to transfer the hydroelectric license for the dams from PacifiCorp to the corporation, said CEO Mark Bransom.

FERC will also be asked to approve a request from KRRC to surrender that hydroelectric license, Bransom said.

“That would be the point where we would cease to operate the project as a hydroelectric project,” he told the Triplicate on Wednesday.

FERC is currently reviewing KRRC’s 2,300 page Definite Plan for decommissioning the dams, he said. This plan includes engineering drawings, and several methods by which the dams could be removed, Bransom said. The plan also addresses the draw down of the reservoirs behind the dams, including the estimated drawdown rate and how that would work, he said.

This information in this plan provides the basis for the estimated project cost of $398 million, according to Bransom. A copy of the plan is available at KRRC’s website, www.klamathrenewal.org/definite-plan. A copy of the plan is also available through FERC, Bransom said.

“We don’t know exactly what their timeline will be,” Bransom said of the FERC approval process. “We anticipating FERC acting on the application for the license transfers some time in the coming months or year. Presumably in 2019, but we don’t know or control FERC’s timeline.”

White and Stone

raise concerns

Though they wanted to see the river’s historic salmon runs restored, Stone and Wes White said they felt sending a letter of support for the dam removal project was premature.

Wes White said he still had concerns about potential impacts of silt to the harbor despite projections in the water resources control board’s draft EIR that the level of silt and sediment that will wash downstream would be less than the river produces during a wet year.

“Are they going to cover any additional costs that we have if we incur more silt than we normally do due to these dam removals?” Wes White asked, referring to KRRC. “Certainly it’s beneficial for the community and the harbor if the salmon return, but silt and damage, who’s going to pay for that is my concern?”

Stone said he spoke with Bransom and Meurer about how exactly the dams would be removed. According to a written account Stone provided the Triplicate of his Monday conversation with Bransom, Bransom said before draining the dams, the construction bypass tunnels will be located and inspected.

“I said, so what are the safety procedures?” Stone said, adding that he was concerned about the potential for a high snow pack with an undue amount of runoff in the river and the potential that the bypass tunnels wouldn’t be able to handle it. “’That’s up to the people that remove the dams.’ So KRRC is basically putting it on the back of the contractors to figure out how to do this and I have some real concerns about the process.”

Once KRRC chooses a construction contractor, they will evaluate the dam removal procedure laid out in the corporation’s Definite Plan, Bransom said. He noted the contractor would be able to propose alternative methods for dam removal. The contractor will also give KRRC a construction price based on their evaluation of the scope of the work and their recommendations for ways to enhance the project, Bransom said.

“Owners are very conscious about giving contractors room to innovate and part of that is to take advantage of the qualifications of contractors, people who do construction for a living,” he told the Triplicate. “It’s also part of an appropriate risk management (strategy). The owner always wants to give contractors room to work within those boundary conditions and not dictate to the contractor all the means and methods by which the contractor will implement the project.”

After issuing a request for qualifications in November 2018, KRRC chose three “world-class engineering and construction teams,” Bransom said. These engineering and construction teams are expected to submit their project proposals to KRRC on Feb. 12, he said.

“In late February we’ll conduct interviews with one or more of the three teams and make a selection in March,” Bransom said. “It’s our goal to have a construction contractor under contract, or what we refer to as pre-construction services, in late March or April.”

An independent board of consultants, required by FERC and convened by KRRC, will look at all aspects of the project, including the dam removal process and any proposed changes from the contractor.

Public Comment

At Monday’s Crescent City Council meeting, Adam Spencer, who had covered the Klamath River and dam removal issue for several years as a Triplicate reporter, said when dam removal was connected to a water sharing agreement, Del Norte County and the Hoopa Valley Tribe opposed it. But, he noted, that KRRC’s project is solely about dam removal and would only increase water quality in the river.

“As a coastal community it just amazes me that we’ve had our former sheriff and some current county supervisors voice their opinions siding with Siskiyou County,” Spencer said. “If you’re a farmer or an irrigator it would just make sense if this was connected with water sharing, but it’s not, for one, and it’s just an ideological symbol for a lot of people in Klamath Falls and Siskiyou County. It’s not helping anybody, there’s no flood control, no amount of impact to irrigators. To not vote 5-0 on this issue is really not acceptable for anybody at this point when it’s for dam removal alone.”

Sammy Gensaw III, a Yurok Tribal member and founder of the nonprofit Ancestral Guard, pointed out that right now his community is unable to fish. But restoring the river would support, not only the Yurok people, but all of Del Norte County.

“When you support the lives of indigenous people in Del Norte County, you support a healthy California,” Gensaw said. “I say, together, when we create power for our people and opportunities for our people, it is the only way we will be able to move forward and build a stronger economy and stronger relationships within the districts.”

The water resources control board’s draft EIR is available at www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/water_quality_cert/lower_klamath_ferc14803.shtml.

A copy of the draft EIR is available at the Del Norte County Library, 190 Price Mall in Crescent City. Another public hearing will be live streamed from Sacramento from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 15 at www.calepa.ca.gov/broadcast/.

For more information, call Michelle Sieball at (916) 322-8465 or email WR401Program@waterboards.ca.gov .

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .