A fundraiser dinner at the Arcata Veterans Hall hosted by Save California Salmon and Friends of the Eel River provided updates Saturday on the status of the removal of several Klamath River dams, as well an insight into the future of dam removal on the Eel River.
Regina Chichizola, who works with Save California Salmon, said the process of removing the Klamath dams has been complicated, and the dinner was intended to clarify any uncertainties that might exist.
“PacifiCorp was re-licensing the dams through the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) process,” she said. “Now that the dams are being transferred to a dam removal entity, they have to redo the process for the (water quality) certification and for the FERC EIS (environmental impact statement) … this is the public process for the state of California to remove the dams.”
Because of the change up from re-licensing for continued operation to licensing with the intent to decommission the dams, hearings that have already occurred for the initial re-licensing process have to happen again for the purpose of dam decommissioning, she said.
Chichizola said a hearing for public comment on a draft version on an environmental impact report, which is the next step in dam removal that will factor into the state’s decision to grant a water quality certification for the decommissioning project, will be taking place on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at the D Street Community Center in Arcata from 5 to 8 p.m. Chichizola encourages people to come and offer their support for Klamath dam removal.
“I think it’s going great. I’ve been working on dam removal now for 15 years,” she said. “All the evidence shows taking the dams down means that we will have clean water and that salmon will be able to rebound in the Klamath River … if we take the Eel River dams down too we might be able to bring back the fishing industry.”
According to a document circulated at the event, “the Water Board staff finds that, ‘In looking at the range of benefits and impacts the State Water Board has identified the Proposed Project as the environmentally superior alternative.’”
“The removal of the four dams … is definitely their preferred alternative,” she said.
After the comment period on the draft Environmental Impact Report, the state may issue a “final permit to remove the dams,” which will leave the Klamath River Renewal Corporation waiting on the completion of another process on the federal level for other permits required for dam removal, Chichizola said.
Frankie Myers, vice-chairman of the Yurok Tribe, spoke briefly at the event, but his words were met with a room full of applause.
“Dam removal on the Klamath is nearing the end,” he said. “On the Eel we are making progress; the same efforts need to be shown to both at this time … we are very close.”
Stephanie Tidwell, the executive director of Friends of the Eel River, said the movement around the dams on the Eel River has been an interesting process.
“Things have changed so rapidly for the dams’ re-licensing process,” she said. “I’m actually hopeful … . PG&E’s announcement that they’re going to withdraw their application to re-license the dam basically means they have to take Scott Dam out — I don’t see any way around it.”
The announcement, she said, has left the dam in an “abandoned state,” and with the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. failing to find another party to purchase and run the dam, removal is likely.
“They’ve been losing money on the power generation process for many many years,” she said. “When those dams were built we didn’t have the Endangered Species Act, we didn’t have the clean water act … . Basically it requires fish passage; Scott Dam has no fish passage.”
Tidwell likened Scott Dam to “a wall of death,” and said the initial cost analysis for installing fish ladders would number into the tens of millions.
“What was already a money-losing project becomes untenable from a corporate perspective,” she said. “And so we and a lot of other groups have been involved … to try and hammer out a solution.”
What we’re looking at now, Tidwell said, is a very different situation from what things looked like eight days ago. The withdrawal of an application for re-licensing by PG&E was akin to the company giving up on finding a purchaser, she said, and, reading between the lines, it appears the dams are likely to come down.
“We’ll know more as this process goes along,” she said. “Basically there is now a 90-day window in which someone else could apply to buy the dam, but if they couldn’t do it with PG&E offering them a lot of carrot and money and studies, we can’t just possibly imagine how someone else could take it on and continue with the federal re-licensing process which is what they’d be required to do.”
For more information on the Feb. 6 hearing, visit the event page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/319789575304930/.
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.