Unusual pact to tear down Klamath dams

2016-04-07 18:09
Researchers have bred salmon from a surrogate species. (AP)

Researchers have bred salmon from a surrogate species. (AP)

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Sacramento - Endangered salmon blocked for nearly a century from hundreds of miles of the Klamath River in Oregon and California are expected to return en masse under unusual agreements signed Wednesday to tear down four hydroelectric dams.

US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who signed the agreements with the governors of both states, said the plan would bring about one of the largest river restoration projects in the history of the US.

The landmark agreements also protect farmers and ranchers from rising power and water prices as the various interests work to end long-running water wars in the drought-stricken Klamath River basin.

The dams now block fish from migrating to their historic spawning grounds and also degrade water quality, spreading fish diseases and algae blooms. Salmon are sacred to some Native American tribes that use them for subsistence and ceremony.

"Our allocation of fish this year doesn't meet half of our subsistence for our people," said Yurok Tribe Vice Chair David Gensaw. "This is a threat to our culture, our religion and the economic survival of our people."

The Klamath basin has been the site of tense disputes between tribes, environmentalists, farmers and ranchers for nearly two decades.

In 2001, water deliveries to farmers and ranchers were severely curtailed. Adult salmon suffered a major die-off a year later. Salmon harvests have been sharply reduced for the tribes as well as recreational and commercial fishers.

The latest deal is spelled out in two agreements signed at the mouth of the Klamath in northern California in a ceremony attended by Oregon Governor Kate Brown, California Governor Jerry Brown, high-ranking federal officials, tribal leaders, conservation groups, large-scale water users and dam-owner PacifiCorp.

The agreements include promises to keep working on a dormant, six-year-old settlement process that died when Congress failed to approve it last year. In addition to removing dams, the initial settlement would have restored tribal lands and provided more water for farmers and ranchers.

By removing the dams without congressional approval, and providing price assurances to farmers in exchange, the advocates hope to make the larger deal more palatable for Congress.

Not everyone is celebrating. Dam removal is a major improvement, but the guarantees for farmers and ranchers don't belong in the agreement, said Jim McCarthy of the conservation group WaterWatch.

Read more on:    us  |  environment

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