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Agreement Reached On the Klamath River -- Why the Largest Dam Removal Project in History May Be Underway Soon

The government, three Indian Tribes and 25 other parties released a tentative agreement providing for the removal of four Klamath River dams owned by billionaire Warren Buffett.

In the largest dam removal project in history, the federal government, three Indian Tribes and 25 other parties released a tentative agreement on September 30 providing for the removal of four Klamath River dams owned by billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Company.

The agreement would remove Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and J.C. Boyle dams, opening up historic habitat above Iron Gate Dam to the migration of coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead for the first time in nearly a century. The Klamath Hydroelectric Relicensing Agreement (KHRA) would provide a pathway that would lead to dam removal in 2020, following an analysis by the Interior Secretary to determine whether dam removal is indeed to the benefit of fisheries and "in the public interest."

"This agreement marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Klamath River and for the communities whose health and way of life depend on it,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "Hats off to all the stakeholders who have worked so hard to find common ground on one of the most challenging water issues of our time. This agreement would establish an open, scientifically grounded process that will help me make a fully informed decision about whether dam removal is in the public interest.”

The Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes have supported the process, touting it as an unprecedented opportunity to restore the Klamath, historically one of the West's great salmon and steelhead rivers. The Hoopa Valley Tribe has opposed the pact, calling it an "Old West water deal." Most fishing groups have backed the process, while environmental groups and farming organizations are split over the agreement, with many supporting it and others criticizing it.

"We haven't seen salmon in our country for 90 years; this Agreement represents our best chance of finally bringing the salmon home," said Jeff Mitchell, council member for the Klamath Tribes of Oregon. "Once we decided to stop fighting and start talking, we realized the opportunities provided by collaboration and coalition building."

The Karuk Tribe, Klamath Tribes, Yurok Tribe, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, California Trout, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Salmon River Restoration Council, Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, Sustainable and the Natural Heritage Institute released a joint statement Wednesday morning regarding the agreement. They said the Klamath Basin Tribes, counties, conservation groups, fishing groups, and farming and ranching organizations will consider the "pros and cons" of the Agreement and decide whether or not to support it in the coming weeks. Several groups already appear eager to support it.

"The Klamath River Basin has been used to support farming, local power needs, and commercial fishing for over a century, all at the expense of the health of the ecosystem that supports a wide array of plant and animal species,” said Curtis Knight, Mt. Shasta Area Regional Manager of California Trout. "After years of complex negotiations among interest groups and dam owner PacifiCorp, we have come to an agreement that will dramatically change the landscape along the Klamath."

The Companion Agreement: Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement

The groups said the KHSA would be complemented by the implementation of a companion agreement, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). "Whereas the KHSA focuses on the fate of PacifiCorp's lower four Klamath River Dams, the KBRA significantly increases water flows for fish, provides greater reliability of irrigation water delivery, undertakes Basin-scale habitat restoration, and makes critical economic investments to ensure the economic viability of Basin fishing and farming communities into the future," the groups stated.

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