The goal of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is to restore and sustain wild fish populations to support in-river and ocean fishing industries and to establish reliable water and power supplies for agricultural and the natural environment. Both sets of goals aim to ensure the economic vitality and sustainability of all Klamath Basin communities.

The Klamath Basin Hydroelectric Agreement lays out the process for additional studies, environmental review to inform a decision by the US Secretary of the Interior regarding whether or not the removal of four dams owned by PacifiCorp in California and Oregon is necessary for restoration of fish in the Klamath Basin and is in the public interest. The KHSA is based on the Agreement in Principle reached between PacifiCorp, Oregon, California, and the federal government in November of 2008. It provides for funding up to US$200M in dam removal costs by collecting a surcharge from PacifiCorp’s Oregon and California customers over the next 10 years.

Supporters signed the agreements at a ceremony in Salem together with the Governors of Oregon and California, the Secretary of the Interior, and other high-ranking Obama administration officials.

This plan includes the largest dam removal project in history. The coalition’s conservation organizations (which together have more dam removal experience than any groups in America) emphasized that the magnitude of the project requires careful analysis to confirm that removal, which is slated for 2020, is in the public interest.

“Dam removal gets a lot of attention but removal alone is not enough to restore the many endangered fisheries to self sustaining and harvestable levels. Habitat restoration and improved water flows at key times of year are also critical,” said Steve Rothert, California Director for American Rivers. “We recognize that we must work as partners with the agricultural community and private landowners to make that possible.”

The region’s important wildlife refuges and the Pacific Flyway also benefit from the KBRA. When implemented, the KBRA would provide a certain and predictable supply of water to Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuges. Extensive habitat improvements to area wetlands and incentives for farmers to retain flooded areas for waterfowl will also benefit migratory birds.

Settlement supporters are now turning their attention to Washington, DC where they’ll seek funds to invest in Klamath communities and implement the comprehensive restoration plan. Restoration measures will be accompanied by financial investments to diversify agricultural, tribal and county economies, including extensive renewable energy development.

Aspects of the two settlement agreements have however been criticised by some groups. At the end of last year, it was reported that a coalition of environmental groups were supporting an alternative to the KHSA that it says would secure a shortened timeline for removal of the four dams.

The Klamath Conservation Partners – which includes the Northcoast Environmental Center, the Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild, amongst others – says while it appreciates the considerable effort that has gone into creating the settlements, it could not support the deal in its current form since it failed to compel Pacificorp, the states of Oregon and California or the federal government to commit to dam removal now.

The group said it had withdrawn from the KHSA as it was seeking to increase the likelihood that a final Congressional deal will actually result in dam removal in the relatively near future, and that such a deal will protect and restore both the lower basin’s river and the upper basin’s refuges.