California, Oregon and tribes advance the most ambitious salmon restoration effort in history

Press Pool

California, Oregon, Yurok and Karuk Tribes announce agreement with PacifiCorp to advance the most ambitious salmon restoration effort in history, set terms for removal of four dams.

News Release

States of California and Oregon, Save California Salmon, Indigenous Environmental Network, Klamath Justice Coalition

California Governor Gavin Newsom joined with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, leaders of the Yurok and Karuk Tribes and Berkshire Hathaway-owned PacifiCorp in announced an agreement today to provide additional resources and support to advance the most ambitious salmon restoration effort in history. The project, when completed, will address declines in fish populations, improve river health and renew tribal communities and cultures.

The Memorandum of Agreement signed by the states of California and Oregon, the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe, PacifiCorp and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) describes how the parties will implement the amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) as negotiated and signed in 2016. The KHSA sets the terms for the removal of four Klamath River dams.

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Indigenous Environmental Network

“The Klamath River is a centerpiece of tribal community, culture and sustenance and a national ecological treasure,” Governor Newsom said. “With this agreement, we are closer than ever to restoring access to 400 miles of salmon habitat which will be a boon to the local economy. I am grateful for the partnership between California and Oregon, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes and Berkshire Hathaway that proves when we work together, we can build a better, more inclusive future for all.”

With the Memorandum of Agreement, the parties:

  • Jointly ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to remove PacifiCorp from the license for the project and add California, Oregon and KRRC as co-licensees for carrying out dam removal. Adding the states as co-licensees provides assurances that the project will have sufficient financial backing while honoring settlement terms that stipulate PacifiCorp would not be a co-licensee for removal.
  • Demonstrate their firm commitment to dam removal.
  • Agree to nearly double available contingency funds held by KRRC and contractors and, in the unlikely event that additional funds are needed beyond that, Oregon, California and PacifiCorp will share the costs equally to address FERC’s requirement to ensure full funding for the project.
  • Confirm that the KRRC will remain the dam removal entity for the project.
  • Plan to navigate the final regulatory approvals necessary to allow the project to begin in 2022 with dam removal in 2023. Site remediation and restoration will continue beyond 2023.
  • Retain the liability protections for PacifiCorp’s customers established in the KHSA.

Taken together, these provisions are intended to resolve FERC’s concerns raised in a July 2020 order and ensure a successful dam removal project.

“This is an incredibly important step forward on the path towards restorative justice for the people of the Klamath Basin, and towards restoring health to the river as well as everyone and everything that depends on it,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said. “From time immemorial, the stewardship of the indigenous peoples of the Klamath basin have nurtured the lands, waters, fish and wildlife of this region. In Oregon, the Klamath tribes remember a time when their livelihoods were supported by clean, healthy, and vibrant waters. It is that vision, that promise, that we are working towards restoring for the generations to come.”

Implementation of the amended KHSA requires two approvals by FERC. First, FERC must approve the transfer of the license for the dams from PacifiCorp to the KRRC and the states. Second, FERC must approve the dam removal plan.

“I want to thank Governor Newsom and Governor Brown for their leadership in bringing everyone together to collaborate and solve a very complex challenge,” Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett said. “I recognize the importance of Klamath dam removal and river restoration for tribal people in the Klamath Basin. We appreciate and respect our tribal partners for their collaboration in forging an agreement that delivers an exceptional outcome for the river, as well as future generations. Working together from this historic moment, we can complete the project and remove these dams.”

Save Our rivers Save Our future, Save California Salmon, Klamath
(Image: courtesy Save California Salmon)

The decision comes after almost 20 years of organizing from the tribes, coastal fishermen and their allies, Regina Chichizola, co-director of Save California Salmon, said.

“As Yurok tribal people, it is our sacred duty to bring balance to the Klamath River,” Yurok Tribe Chair Joseph James said. “Reaching this important milestone would not be possible without the many tribal people who have dedicated their lives to restoring the river. Although we are excited to be moving forward again, we want to emphasize that the Yurok Tribe will never rest until the dams are out and the river is healed.”

Karuk Tribe Chair Russell “Buster” Attebery described the agreement as a testament to years of devotion by activists who never tired of demanding justice for their communities

“We are more confident than ever that future generations of Karuk will enjoy the benefits of a healthy Klamath River just as their ancestors did dating back to the beginning of time,” Attebery said.

Once all the necessary approvals are obtained,  KRRC plans to begin removing the Klamath dams and allowing salmon to access habitat that has been cut off for a century.

“We are deeply grateful to the parties who negotiated a path forward for this epic project to restore the Klamath River,” KRRC Chief Executive Officer Mark Bransom said. 

Over 12 years ago, longtime Dam removal advocate Chook-Chook Hillman, Karuk, asked Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett to sign an agreement to Un-dam the Klamath by 2015 in front of thousands at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha. At the time Hillman’s offer was rejected.

"While I feel a sense of relief and joy in this moment, I will reserve my full feelings until my friends and family take that trip down a free-flowing Klamath River, and our upriver neighbors have salmon again," Hillman said.

Other advocates agreed with Hillman that they will not be celebrating until the removal is underway.

“How many times are we going to sign on the dotted line? Is it for real this time? Seeing is believing, and I won’t believe it until dam removal starts,” longtime advocate Dania Rose said.

Read the full Memorandum of Agreement here. 

The Save California Salmon organization will host a webinar to give more information and celebrate at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

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Yurok Tribe Seal - small
(Image: Yurok Tribe Facebook Page)
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(Image: Save California Salmon)
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(Image: Indigenous Environmental Network banner)
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