While the proposal to remove four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River continues to move forward, one of America’s most famous businessmen has entered the conversation.
California Governor Gavin Newsom recently sent a letter to investor Warren Buffet to support the removal of the dams near the Oregon border in Northern California. The dams are owned by PacificCorp, which is part of Buffet’s massive Berkshire Hathaway Inc. conglomerate.
The removal of the Klamath River dams will be the largest dam removal project in the history of the world.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently approved a partial transfer of ownership of the four lower dams from PacifiCorp, who have owned them since 1956, to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) for purpose of removal. While the ownership transfer was a step towards removal, the deal included PacifiCorp remaining the operator of the dams, which could prove to be another speed bump in the dams removal.
That’s why Newsom is urging Buffet to support the dams removal, which could significantly improve the salmon runs that once graced the river over a century ago.
“The river is sick, and the Klamath Basin tribes are suffering,” wrote Newsom, describing the Klamath Dam remobal project “a shining example of what we can accomplish when we act according to our values.”
Fishing, conservation and Native American tribes also sent a joint statement to Buffet.
“Walking away from the agreement will put PacifiCorp ratepayers on the hook for all the risks and liabilities associated with fish kills, toxic algae blooms, lawsuits, and violations of tribal rights,” the statement said. “We urge Warren Buffett and PacifiCorp to end the delays and move the dam removal process forward immediately.”
Klamath communities that depend on salmon fisheries for economic and cultural survival have campaigned for years to remove the lower four Klamath dams. The dams provide no irrigation diversions, no drinking water, and almost no flood control benefit. The dams were built for hydropower but managing the aging structures today costs more than they’re worth.
“Rural communities including tribal communities throughout the Klamath Basin from to the headwaters to the mouth of the river will benefit from dam removal. At its heart, Klamath Dam removal is a fish restoration project that will benefit all communities in the Klamath Basin including agricultural interests throughout the basin,” explains Yurok Vice-Chairman Frankie Myers.
Declining fish populations have led to water curtailments to the Klamath Irrigation Project, located above the dams. Meanwhile downstream Tribes have curtailed or cancelled fish harvests for the first time in millennia. Klamath Dam removal will increase fish populations including abundance, diversity and resiliency and many believe it to be a key to ending strife over water that plagues the basin every year.
The project comes following a monumental federal lawsuit won by the Hoopa Valley Tribe which requires PacifiCorp to adhere to mandatory requirements meant to protect the health of the Klamath River, which they have avoided for over a decade. In order to operate the dams, the company needs a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They haven’t had a license since 2006 and have instead operated on temporary licenses which enabled them to avoid completing water certifications which force modernization of the dam. Not anymore, said the court.
PacifiCorp was operating under a license from 1956, which was well before the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, fish passage provisions and water flow requirements. While the company was working on the temporary licenses, they made $27 million in profits per year.