GRANTS PASS, Ore. – The state of Oregon will finance most of the cost of removing four Klamath River dams to help salmon under a bill signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski Tuesday.
Meanwhile, federal officials met in Klamath Falls with representatives of electricity producer PacifiCorp and the states of California and Oregon. The parties must have a binding agreement by September to restore 300 miles of spawning habitat on what was once the third biggest salmon producer on the West Coast.
A preliminary agreement that serves as a framework for the negotiations both guarantees and limits the amount of irrigation water that will be available to farmers in the Klamath Basin, and offers hundreds of millions of dollars for salmon restoration work and research.
In recent decades, the needs of farms and fish in the area have been pitted against each other while declining salmon runs have triggered cutbacks in commercial and recreational fishing.
“Signing this bill into law is a critical step in ensuring that all of the Klamath’s diverse rural communities have an economically viable future,” Kulongoski said in a release. “Every farmer and fisherman whose livelihood depends on a healthy river system will benefit from the restoration of the Klamath Basin.”
Long an opponent of dam removal, PacifiCorp shifted after it became clear the idea had strong public support and the utility could end up paying far more to continue trying to relicense the aged dams.
“We said all along if public policy dictates dam removal, we need to do everything we can to provide our customers with legal and financial protection,” PacifiCorp spokesman Art Sasse said.
Sasse, as well as representatives of Indian tribes, farmers, and salmon fishermen, who have long battled over balancing scarce water in the Klamath Basin between fish and farms, all praised the governor for his work to make dam removal a reality.
Oregon Wild, however, continues to oppose the deal. The conservation group argues that it gives too much to farmers and too little to fish and wildlife.