A proposal to remove four Klamath River dams in Oregon and California got a boost this week when a federal study revealed that dam removal costs are significantly less than first estimated.
U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced on Tuesday that dam removal is expected to be around $290 million, well below the initial projection of $450 million and less than the $500 million that Washington and Oregon have budgeted for the project. The finding was part of the government’s Environmental Impact Statement that looked at the total costs and benefits of removing the four dams that have long blocked migrating salmon and steelhead from returning to their historic spawning habitat in northern California and southern Oregon. According to the report, which was released Wednesday morning, dam removal will create about 4,000 new jobs, most of which are tied to the demolition work set to begin in 2020 under the proposed plan.
The agreement also assures farmers a more consistent water supply, a move that was necessary to garner support for the project in agriculture-intense southern Oregon where the tug-of-war over water supply has reached all the way to the White House. A 2007 Washington Post profile of Dick Cheney revealed that the then-vice president intervened on behalf of farmers during one of those water battles. At Cheney’s direction, the government reversed its own research on drought in order to keep water flowing to Klamath Basin farmers. The controversial decision resulted in an unprecedented fish kill on the water-starved Klamath. It also provided impetus for a long-range solution.
While dam removal is a necessary part of any long-term restoration project, not everyone agrees on the remainder of the largely unfunded restoration. Conservation groups including Oregon Wild have withheld their support of the proposal over concerns that it has been too heavily influenced by the demands of agricultural interests.
While PacificCorp’s Oregon electricity customers have already started contributing to the dam removal costs through a two percent surcharge, several major obstacles remain, including whether or not the federal government will appropriate the $500 million necessary for dam removal and restoration. Salazar will weigh in on the plan in the next six months when he releases his report and recommendations. Of course that report will likely come just a few months before another presidential election that could change the entire political landscape.
Photo: David McLain/National Geographic