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Money for Klamath dam removal included in California water bill

By Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian

November 04, 2009
klamath-river-dams.jpgView full sizeThe Klamath River backs up behind Iron Gate Dam near Hornbrook, Calif. A water bill in that state would set aside $250 million to help pay for the removal of Iron Gate and three other Klamath River dams owned by Portland-based PacifiCorp.A massive water bill approved by the California legislature includes $250 million dollars for removing four private dams on the Klamath River.

That amount represents the bulk of California's tab for a multiparty agreement to tear out the dams to improve conditions for federally protected fish.

The dam agreement -- which involves Oregon, California, the federal government, the dam's owners, tribes, farmers and environmentalists -- is one part of a larger plan to balance competing claims on limited water and resources in the often fractious Klamath Basin.

Groups in the basin, which stretches from southern Oregon to northern California, have been working for years to reach an agreement to share water, protect salmon and preserve agriculture.

The deal they have come up with, called the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, is tied to the removal of four power-producing dams on the Klamath owned by the Portland-based utility PacifiCorp.

Some groups involved in the negotiations have left or been kicked out because of concerns that the deal doesn't do enough to protect endangered fish or guarantee water deliveries for some farms in the upper basin.

But the agreement continues to gain political momentum.

A bill that would allow PacifiCorp to charge its Oregon ratepayers a surcharge to raise $180 million for dam removal was signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski this year.

In any case, dam removal is still more than a decade away. Also under the terms of the agreement, the Interior Secretary must decide dam removal is in the public's interest, and Congress will need to vote on funding the basin-wide agreement.

-- Matthew Preusch
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