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Bush Administration Unveils Another Risky Klamath Scheme

Politics, not science, drives deal that could limit options for President-elect Obama

Oregon and California conservation groups unite in opposition to plan that would jeopardize timely dam removal.

Aracta, CA Nov 13, 2008


With just a few months left in office, the Bush administration today unveiled an Agreement in Principle (AIP) that could jeopardize the future of endangered Klamath River salmon.  The AIP, signed by the US Department of Interior, the state of Oregon, the state of California, and PacifiCorp links the removal of four aging dams on the Klamath River to other harmful measures largely put in place to benefit powerful political allies of President Bush.  It would also usurp the power of several state and federal agencies to protect clean water and endangered species, and would require Congress to provide over $1 billion from federal taxpayers.   

“The Bush administration’s legacy in the Klamath Basin is one of massive fish kills, manipulation of science, and political favoritism,” said Steve Pedery with the conservation group Oregon Wild. “President Bush has been a disaster for the Klamath.  Let’s not hamstring President Obama with Bush’s failed policies.” 

The deal is the product of secret negotiations underway in Washington, D.C. for the last several weeks. With President-elect Barack Obama set to take over the White House in little more than two months, the AIP deal represents an effort by the outgoing Bush administration to lock in political favors for powerful Klamath Basin agribusiness interests.  

“Dam removal, together with a plan to restore wetlands and reduce the demand for water, is a vital step towards improving Klamath River salmon runs,” said John DeVoe, Executive Director of WaterWatch of Oregon.  “Unfortunately, this Bush administration deal doesn’t achieve dam removal and continues to advance the Bush administration’s anti-environmental initiatives on water and National Wildlife Refuges.”

The Agreement in Principle signed today includes a tentative arrangement for the federal government to designate a non-federal entity to remove the lower four Klamath River dams now owned by PacifiCorp. However, the dams would only be removed if a number of highly unlikely conditions are met, including the passage of $1 billion federal legislation and a four year cost-benefit analysis of dam removal by the Department of Interior. This type of analysis would be counter productive and is unnecessary given studies that have already been conducted, and would significantly delay any work to remove the dams.

“This agreement is like a highway with five different off ramps and no throughway,” said Pete Nichols, president of the California conservation group the Northcoast Environmental Center. “As the clock runs out on their time in office, the Bush administration is trying to reward powerful friends in the Basin, let PacifiCorp off the hook, and stick citizens with the bill.”

The AIP also precludes Oregon and California from completing necessary reviews of the water quality impacts of the dams required by the Clean Water Act. These state certifications under the Clean Water Act are required if the dams are not removed in order to  guarantee that water released from PacifiCorp’s dams meets health and safety requirements. Since the AIP offers no clear path to dam removal, suspending this requirement for the lower four Klamath River dams continues to put the health of both local communities and salmon runs at risk.

The Bush administration has sought to capitalize on the gaining momentum for Klamath dam removal by linking dam removal to environmentally harmful policies. Among the more damaging provisions in the Bush-backed Klamath settlement is a 50-year extension of commercial agricultural development on two of the nation’s premier National Wildlife Refuges. Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges are vitally important for migrating waterfowl, and wetlands restoration on these public lands would improve water pollution problems in the Klamath River.

The Bush-backed settlement agreement also seeks to lock in generous water guarantees and electricity subsidies for politically-powerful agribusiness interests the Klamath irrigation project, with no guaranteed water flows for threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River. Even if met, the predicted flow levels left in the river under the agreement would fall well below the levels the National Research Council (NRC) has endorsed to aid the recovery of salmon, particularly during the critically important late summer and early fall months. The risk of insufficient water is again being placed on salmon, most likely in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“With just a handful of months left before President-elect Obama takes office, it makes no sense to push ahead with a plan that sacrifices water needed for salmon and wetlands needed for wildlife in order to gain the support of the Bush administration,” concluded Steve Pedery with Oregon Wild. 

A balanced solution for the Klamath should include removal of the lower four Klamath River dams, an effective plan to buy back water rights from willing-sellers and retire them so that more water can be left for salmon and wildlife, and a timeline for phasing out commercial agriculture from two of America’s most important National Wildlife Refuges.

See attached:

Agreement in Principal

Klamath AIP Background Memo


Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild, 503.283.6343 ext 212

John DeVoe, WaterWatch of Oregon, 503.295.4039 ext 1

Pete Nichols, Northcoast Environmental Center, 707.268.0664



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