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There is simply no quit in the Klamath Basin

Posted by Mike Gerel on February 11, 2016

Progress is being made toward dam removal, and here’s a small peek behind the scenes of this important step forward.

Copco-1-dam_Sustainable-Northwest_600
Copco 1 Dam on Klamath River. Photo by Sustainable Northwest

As it is often the case when big things happen, the many small steps that happened behind the scenes to reach the main event remain invisible. We thought readers would be interested to know how the recent progress in the Klamath has come to be. We’re proud to have played a key role.

A number of media outlets reported on the new agreement to remove four dams on the Klamath River. This news should not be a surprise to anyone who has spent time working with those who have nurtured what would be the largest river basin restoration effort in U.S. history. 

When people of conviction unite and stay together despite a cascade of seemingly insurmountable challenges there are no bounds to what they can achieve. Instead of giving up and letting years of work die, their care for the needs of all in the region who rely upon water compels them to face up to obstacles  and think creatively about how to overcome them. That is what just happened in the Klamath. 

For over a decade Sustainable Northwest has worked in the Klamath to find balanced solutions to a water over-allocation problem the people of the region did not create. Eighteen months ago, when congressional approval of the suite of existing Klamath Agreements looked slim, we sparked a modest and deliberate investigation into other pathways to realize their goals. Discussions began with dam removal—the piece that has been most vexing to some in Congress. In coordination with partners in the conservation community, we raised funds to hire national expert who could  identify alternative ways forward. Oregon, California, the U.S. Department of Interior, and PacifiCorp worked tirelessly to hone these news ideas into the deal announced this week. 

While this is a promising development, it is only one of several necessary steps forward. Efforts are underway to attain the Klamath Agreements other key priorities, like upholding tribal trust rights, restoring native fisheries, sustaining migratory bird habitat, and creating greater water and power certainty for agriculture. We applaud stalwart supporters of the full package of Klamath agreements, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, for their recent amendment to an energy bill currently on the Senate floor that addresses some key missing pieces. U.S. Representative Greg Walden introduced a bill late last year that also tackled some of these same issues, and he has advocated use of the administrative approach to dam removal employed in the new pact. Other creative efforts are also afoot to complete the Klamath puzzle. 

There is simply no quit in the Klamath. Patience, sharing, and compromise among people who have little to give and time to wait is a beautiful thing. The people from near and far that care for the long-term health of the vital ecosystems, agricultural economies, and rural communities of this region will not give up; it’s just not in their DNA. 

We have big natural resource challenges in our state, which require big solutions. But when we come together with honesty and respect—from the Klamath, to Harney County, to the Blue Mountains, to the coast—resilient solutions that work for all who rely on Oregon’s natural resources are possible. 

In the spirit of Mark Twain, reports of the death of collaboration, innovation, and hope in the Klamath have been greatly exaggerated. 

Mike Gerel is the Director of Programs for Sustainable Northwest.