Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Strategic Blunder - Tribes, Fishermen and Environmental Groups excluded from Klamath Dam Negotiations!

The Interior Department, State of California and State of Oregon are negotiating with PacifiCorp over the fate of the company’s five Klamath River Dams. Klamath River Basin tribes along with fishing and environmental groups have been excluded from the negotiations. The fate of the dams is – for the moment at least – out of the hands of those organizations which have worked for many years now for removal of four of the five dams. How did this come about and could it have been avoided?

PacifiCorp the feds and states have been able to exclude the tribes, fishermen and enviros because of the strategy advocated by members of the California Hydropower Reform Coalition and adopted by the tribes, fishermen, local and regional environmental groups. That strategy called for negotiating a “settlement” with PacifiCorp BEFORE completing the formal processes involved in hydroelectric dam relicensing. So far, that strategy has had several consequences:

  • PacifiCorp has been able to delay the relicensing process far beyond the sunset of its current license in 2005. Because negotiations for a settlement were in process, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued three one-year licenses to operate the Klamath Hydroelectric Project. This is something FERC stated at the beginning of the relicensing process that it would not do. Until recently tribes, fishermen and enviros have taken no action to pressure FERC to stop issuing annual licenses and make a decision on PacifiCorp’s long-term license application.
  • The Bush Interior Department – with assistance from the Klamath Basin Irrigation Elite, the Yurok Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Klamath Tribes and other groups - has been able to hijack dam negotiations in an attempt to tie dam removal to a costly and controversial Water Deal full of subsidies for the Irrigation Elite and other interests.
  • PacifiCorp has been able to demand that it will only negotiate with the Bush Administration and the states. PacifiCorp has excluded all tribes, all fishermen and all enviros from these negotiations. The enviro-tribe-fishermen coalition that worked for a decade to get the dams removed has lost control of negotiations over their fate.

Is this the way it had to be? Were tribes, fishermen and enviros always destined to be sitting on the sidelines while the fate of the dams was decided?

KlamBlog thinks the answer to that question is..... NO.

So what could have been different? What strategy would have put those who favor dam removal in the driver’s seat rather than PacifiCorp, the feds and the states?

Instead of initiating negotiations so early, tribes, enviros and fishermen could have continued with the standard relicensing process. FERC would have likely approved a license (they always do) pending state water quality certification. The dam removal coalition could have then sued FERC on any number of issues – including an inadequate Environmental Impact Statement. They could also have waited for the State of Oregon and State of California to act on the required water quality certifications. If the states certified the dams as meeting water quality standards, the tribes, enviros and fishermen could have sued the states for violation of the Clean Water Act. It would be a slam dunk case – there is no way those dams can be legally certified as meeting water quality standards.

Stated another way, the alternative to the negotiation strategy promoted by the California Hydropower Reform Coalition and accepted by other dam removal advocates would have been to first get PacifiCorp and/or the federal and state governments into court as defendants. Once in court, they could have then proceeded to settlement negotiations. If dam removal advocates had followed that strategy not only would they NOT now be sitting on the sidelines, there would also have been a judge overseeing the negotiations. The judge would have been duty bound to assure that the public’s interests were protected in any settlement. It is doubtful, for example, that an overseeing judge would have allowed the negotiations to be hijacked for two years. Most importantly, the judge would have remained in charge of making sure that all parties implemented commitments made in a settlement.

That is not the strategy dam removal advocates chose to implement. Instead they bought into the strategy the California Hydropower Reform Coalition advocated. As a result dam negotiations have now slipped out of their hands and PacifiCorp-Buffet are likely to get a sweetheart dam removal deal, i.e. a big pile of money and release from liability. But, according to independent hydropower experts, the Klamath dams are obsolete, inefficient and a drag on PacifiCorp profits. The company likely wanted to get rid of the dams all along - but at the least expense to Buffet and other shareholders. And that is what the strategy of the California Hydropower Reform Coalition – the strategy accepted by all the other dam removal advocates – has made not only possible but likely. Look for a sweetheart deal for PacifiCorp to be released in time for a run at implementing legislation before the end of the year.

As in poker and war the results of political strategies are never certain. Nevertheless KlamBlog believes the strategy promoted by the California Hydropower Reform Coalition and implemented by dam removal advocates has been misguided – that is unless an objective all along was a sweetheart deal for PacifiCorp! How far does Buffet’s influence reach?

It is not too late to salvage the Klamath Dam Removal Campaign. If tribes, fishermen and enviros who are involved in the process – or any subset of those involved – change strategy they can still get PacifiCorp and any government that approves the dams into court. But that would require tribes, fishermen and enviros to say “NO” when PacifiCorp, the feds and states announce a deal that soaks taxpayers and releases PacifiCorp from liability. By saying “No” and going to court those who favor dam removal can still regain control of the process and prevent PacifiCorp-Buffet from getting to walk away without liability and with a pile of taxpayer cash.

Will they do it? We doubt it. Tribal, fishing and enviro negotiators appear unwilling or unable to play hard ball. They will go to Portland and make a show of protest but we bet they will not take on PacifiCorp and the Bush Administration in court. Instead look for some of them to scramble for crumbs from the table once PacifiCorp has made off with the loaf.

Here’s a list of California Hydropower Reform Coalition Steering Committee member groups and their web sites. If you are a member of any of these groups or just a concerned citizen and you want to provide them with feedback about the CHRC’s Klamath strategy or other issues, you can find contact information on the web sites:

American Rivers –

American Whitewater –

California Outdoors –

California Sportfishing Protection

California Trout –

Foothill Conservancy –

Friends of the River –

Natural Heritage Institute –

South Yuba River Citizen’s League –

Trout Unlimited –

You may also want to contact Keith Nakatani, Director of the CHRC. His e-address is Here is full contact info for the CHRC:

436 14th St, Suite 801
Oakland, CA 94612



KlamBlog Water Deal Quiz

  • Which of the 26 organizations participating in drafting the proposed Water Deal support it in the form released to the public?
  • Which of the 26 organizations participating in drafting the proposed Water Deal do not support it in the form released to the public?
  • Which of the 26 participating organizations have taken no position on the proposed Water Deal?
  • Which of the 26 participating organizations support the Water Deal but say they will not sign it?
  • What are the issues which non-endorsing participants want to see addressed before they can support the proposed Water Deal?
  • Is the proposed Water Deal complete except for the section on the dams? If not, which sections remain to be completed, why are these sections not being worked on and how do participants plan to complete these missing elements if a dam agreement is reached?

Look for answers next week!


KlamBlog Clarification:

In our July 18th post we praised the Northcoast Environmental Center for raising the funds for an independent scientific review of river flow targets in the proposed Water Deal. It has recently been pointed out to us that the Environmental Caucus involved in Water Deal negotiations supported this NEC initiative. Some members - including California Trout - contributed funds for the review. The Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club also provided funding.

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