Demanding more information on a project to remove four Klamath River dams, Jason Greenough cast the only no vote on a proposed Crescent City Council letter to support the endeavor.
The Crescent City Council on Tuesday approved sending a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board supporting the Klamath River Renewal Corporation’s request for a Clean Water Act Section 401 certification in connection with the removal of the J.C. Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2 and Iron Gate dams.
Noting the Klamath River’s history as the West Coast’s third-largest salmon-producing river, the City Council’s letter states that they believe a “free-flowing Klamath will revitalize” both the commercial and recreational fisheries, creating jobs and bringing revenue to the community.
But Greenough said he had concerns. Though he met with PacifiCorp, which owns the dams and whose representatives have stated that it’s in their customers’ best interest to remove them, Greenough said he was concerned about potential impacts to the Crescent City’s crab fishery.
He asked if material behind the dams had been tested for contaminants and if KRRC was prepared to mitigate any economic consequences if the area’s fishing industry was negatively impacted and “it just goes completely wrong.”
“I find it difficult to support this,” Greenough said. “The more I look into this, the more questions seem to come. The more uncertainty. The more risk, and I personally don’t feel that I can support this project by what I have right now.”
KRRC plans to begin its dam removal project in January 2021. The nonprofit corporation created with the 2016 signing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement to remove the dams 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 will gather public comment on a draft environmental impact report addressing dam removal through Feb. 26.
There are six dams on the Klamath River. Two, the Keno and Link River dams in Oregon, will continue to be operated by the Bureau of Reclamation for water management and irrigation.
The four PacifiCorp dams slated for removal were part of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, according to Bob Gravely, the utility’s public information officer.
In his presentation before the Crescent City Harbor on Feb. 5, Gravely said relicensing the dams would require the utility to add fish ladders and other improvements that would cost an estimated $300 million. Removing the dams would cost PacifiCorp ratepayers less than relicensing them, Gravely told harbor commissioners.
Following that presentation, the Crescent City Harbor District approved a letter in support of the Water Resources Control Board’s draft EIR, though Commissioners Wes White and Brian Stone dissented.
The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 12 also approved a letter neither supporting nor opposing the dam removal project. In its letter the Board of Supervisors questioned the DEIR’s findings the amount of silt and sediment that would wash downstream when the dams are removed would be similar to what the Klamath River produces during a wet year.
The board’s letter stated it was concerned the project “may exacerbate the issue of siltation and sedimentation at the Crescent City Harbor” as well as the “unavoidable and significant impacts” to ocean and in-river fisheries.
At previous presentations, KRRC representatives have stated $450 million has been allocated to the dam removal project. PacifiCorp has contributed $200 million through a customer surcharge while the State of California has committed up to $250 million in voter-approved water bond funds. The project is expected to cost $398 million, according to KRRC representatives.
On Tuesday, Eli Naffah, a consultant for KRRC, said $70 million has been set aside as a contingency fund and since $450 million total has been pledged to support the project, an additional $52 million would be available for contingencies.
“That’s basically $127 million extra that we have from what we figured it would cost to actually remove the dams,” Naffah said. “One of the costs that we could be facing is the fact that the longer this thing takes, the more it’s going to cost. So far, we’re pretty much on the timeline we’re planning, so it should work out where the cost would be just a little bit over $300 million, like $325 million for the actual removal.”
Naffah also referred to a 2015 letter from the Environmental Protection Agency, stating that after about 10 years of tests, the agency has determined sediment behind the dams does not contain a level of contamination that would have harmful effects on fisheries resources, wildlife and humans.
During Naffah’s presentation, Greenough asked if KRRC has a “Plan B.” Naffah replied that a plan B would be a partial removal of the dams, particularly the Iron Gate Dam, that would still allow for the river to flow through it.
According to KRRC Director of Communications Matt Cox, federal and state environmental laws require a consideration of alternatives. For the purposes of environmental review, partial dam removal is the alternative being proposed currently, he said via email Wednesday.
Following Naffah’s presentation, Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore challenged Greenough’s misgivings, referring to statements from PacifiCorp stating if they were to relicense the dams the cost of meeting mandatory regulations with regard to fish passage would fall on their customers.
Inscore asked if Greenough was comfortable putting “another $250 million onto the ratepayers.”
Inscore also noted local fishermen support removing the dams on the Klamath River and have stated it would be more harmful to the fishery to keep things status quo.
“I have not heard one commercial fisherman say that dam removal will hurt our fish population in the long run,” Inscore said, adding salmon returns on the Klamath River have recently been at all-time lows. “To simply say well we’re not going to support this is, in essence, saying we’re OK with the salmon population in the Klamath River continuing to dwindle because that’s what the history has proven.”
KRRC’s 2,300-page Definite Plan for decommissioning the dams is currently being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.
In addition to obtaining the 401 Water Certification from the California Water Resources Control Board, KRRC is petitioning FERC to transfer the hydroelectric license for the dams from PacifiCorp to KRRC. The nonprofit would then ask FERC to approve a request from KRRC to surrender the hydroelectric license at which point the dams would cease to operate as a hydroelectric project.
A copy of KRRC’s Definite Plan is at www.klamathrenewal.org/definite-plan.