US: PacifiCorp Agrees To Remove Dams

Publisher Name: 
The Wall Street Journal

Electric
utility PacifiCorp has tentatively agreed to remove four dams from the
Klamath River, in a deal that would end one of the West's most
rancorous water disputes and could serve as a settlement model for
similar fights.

Under an agreement in principle announced Thursday, PacifiCorp,
based in Portland, Ore., would tear down the dams on the Klamath River
in Oregon and California by 2020. That would open up 300 miles of river
to salmon and steelhead runs that could help restore depleted fisheries
in Oregon and California. The dams, which were put in over the past
century, prevented the fish from migrating farther upstream.

The
hydroelectric power that the dams produced -- which amounts to about
160 megawatts, or less than 2% of the utility's total capacity -- would
be replaced with energy from solar, wind or other renewable energy
sources. PacifiCorp, unit of Berkshire Hathaway
Inc., would pay up to $200 million of the estimated $450 million cost
of the removal, passing on its portion to ratepayers. The state of
California would pay for the rest.

The framework of the deal "ensures that our customers will be
protected at every step along the way," Greg Abel, PacifiCorp's
chairman and chief executive, said in a prepared statement.

The deal between PacifiCorp, the Interior Department and California
and Oregon was reached after three years of negotiations with
environmental, tribal and farmer groups. The parties hope to finalize
the agreement by June. The dams' removal is subject to approval by
federal officials, after reviews that are expected to take four years.

"This marks the first step in a future process, but it's a giant
step," Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said at a new conference
Thursday.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski added, "While many months of work [lie]
ahead, this historic agreement provides a path forward to achieve the
largest river and salmon restoration effort ever undertaken."

Most groups didn't get everything they wanted. The American Rivers
environmental group, for example, was pushing for the dams to be
removed by as soon as 2015. And farmers who depend on irrigation from
the river stand to get less water in dry years than they do now.

But most of the parties sounded pleased that a deal could be reached to end the dispute.

The conflict turned so ugly in 2001 that federal marshals had to be
called in after angry farmers seeking water turned on spigots that the
U.S. government had closed during a drought year.

In 2002, environmentalists became enraged after tens of thousands of
salmon died in the river when the government diverted more water to the
farmers.

"The bottom line is we tried to find common ground and compromise,
and that is the only way something like this could have happened," said
Martin Goebel, president of Sustainable Northwest, a Portland-based
environmental group.

Write to Jim Carlton at jim.carlton@wsj.com

AMP Section Name:Natural Resources
  • 183 Environment