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Klamath River dam-removal project will be world's biggest

Wednesday's agreement to tear down four Klamath River dams took years to reach. But it’s a costly project, and there may be more conflicts ahead.

By Michael B. FarrellStaff writer / September 30, 2009

Water trickles Aug. 21 over Copco 1 Dam on the Klamath River outside Hornbrook, Calif.

Jeff Barnard/AP

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San Francisco

Many environmental groups greeted Wednesday’s draft agreement to tear down four dams and restore the Klamath River along the California-Oregon border with a healthy degree of skepticism.

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The decision to remove the hydroelectric dams that are operated by PacifiCorp comes after years of growing pressure on one of the largest Western utilities to address a raft of environmental issues – namely blocking salmon and steelhead runs but also the creation of toxic algae.

In total, 28 parties including PacifiCorp, California, Oregon, American Indian tribes, federal agencies, and conservation groups signed onto the draft that would bring the dams down in 2020 and amount to a river restoration project of historic proportion.

“When the Klamath dams come down it will be the biggest dam removal project the world has ever seen. It is exciting to see the momentum behind this historic river restoration effort – one that promises to not only restore the health of the river, but also boost local economies and revitalize communities,” said Steve Rothert, California director for the environmental group American Rivers, made in a statement.

Words of caution

But while many stakeholders greeted the decision with praise, others offered much caution.

"We support local stakeholders’ efforts to craft an agreement that works for everyone, but it remains to be seen whether this agreement will hold water,” said Erica Terence of the organization Klamath Riverkeeper in a statement.

The group says it is particularly concerned about a new clause that would give California, Oregon, the federal government, and PacifiCorp the power to amend the agreement without the consent of other parties under some circumstances.

As the Associated Press reports, the dam removal project will not be cheap.

“PacifiCorp will not bear the estimated $450 million cost of removing the dams. Oregon has approved $180 million in surcharges on state ratepayers. Another $250 million depends on California approving general obligation bonds,” according to the news agency.

That high price tag has many concerned.