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Klamath Dam Removal And Conservation Deals To Get Second Life

Federal and state officials will announce two agreements Wednesday designed to pick up where the failed Klamath River Basin pact left off. It's the latest development in the long-standing fight over water in this region that straddles the state line between Southern Oregon and Northern California.

After Congress failed to act last year, the hard negotiated deal fell apart. It would have removed four dams on the Klamath River for salmon, while providing water certainty for farmers.

Now groups that supported the original plan have figured out a way to move forward without federal lawmakers. The flashiest part involves removing the dams -- the biggest project of its kind in U.S. history and the piece of the bargain that area tribes, fishing groups and conservationists have been pushing for.

The agreement is solid enough that the two affected states' governors, Kate Brown of Oregon and Jerry Brown of California (no relation) and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell are among the digniteries who will gather and a signing ceremony at the mouth of the Klamath River in Northern California.

“Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we will see the four main, privately-owned Klamath River dams gone within the next five years,” said Richard Whitman, natural resources policy adviser to Oregon's governor.

The second agreement provides farmers with power subsidies and other financial guarantees. In exchange, they have once again agreed to support dam removal and to negotiate a land and water deal with Oregon’s Klamath Tribes.

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Copco dam, on the upper Klamath River, is one of four PacifiCorp dams slated for removal.
Amelia Templeton /
Copco dam, on the upper Klamath River, is one of four PacifiCorp dams slated for removal.

Jes Burns is a reporter for OPB's Science & Environment unit. Jes has a degree in English literature from Duke University and a master's degree from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communications.