California Congressman Doug La Malfa must have read Mary Maples Dodge’s 1865 children’s book about a Dutch boy named Hans Brinker who saves his country by plugging up a leaking dike in Holland with his finger.
La Malfa (R-Chico) has been a strident long-standing opponent of a plan to remove four dams on the Klamath River in Northern California owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Pacificorp. The plan calls for the demolition of the dams and management of the watershed lands by the non-profit Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC). La Malfa calls the KRRC a “shell corporation” for the Karuk and Yurok Indian tribes who have no experience or capacity to handle the immense legal liabilities of such a project.
The location of the four dams straddle the Oregon-California border.
On July 16, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that oversees hydropower dams, ruled that the KRRC had insufficient finances and experience to be able to solely undertake such a risky project. La Malfa issued the following statement on FERC’s ruling:
“The Commission’s Order today reinforces what I have been saying since KRRC’s inception: KRRC is incapable of handling any hydropower project. Rather, KRRC is nothing more than a shell corporation created for California, Oregon, and other supporters of dam removal to avoid liability and leave local communities to clean up the mess they would create. I am happy to see that FERC agreed with the many issues I, and other stakeholders, brought to their attention. It would have set a dangerous precedent to give a shell cooperation sole liability for the immense damage to the environment and local economy that this project would create. Smaller dam removal projects have faced significantly higher costs than originally estimated and this project has made the same failed assumptions. This Order clears the way to stop this terrible project without wasting more of California taxpayer funds or Oregon ratepayer dollars. PacifiCorp should instead pursue relicensing of all four Klamath dams, ensuring the Basin continues to receive ample carbon free, clean power for years to come.”
Dam Removal Scheme
During the Obama administration’s control of FERC, environmentalists were successful in demanding that Buffett install $450 million of “fish ladders” on his four dams in a sort of retroactive environmental mitigation. Buffett made it clear that the $450 million exceeded the operational revenues of the hydropower facilities on the dams. He, thus, decided he would capitulate to the dam removal plan under the condition he would not be liable for any flooding or environmental lawsuits involved from demolishing the dams.
Pacificorp agreed to throw in $184 million from its Oregon hydropower customer surcharge and $16 million from its California surcharge for removal costs. Additionally, $250 million from a water bond would be used from the State of California. But this would barely cover demolition costs while the huge liabilities from flooding or environmental damage lawsuits would be borne by KRRC. The KRRC is a shell corporation for Indian tribes and commercial fishing special interest groups of the Democrat Party. Dam removal was sold to the public as a way to restore river habitat, salmon population and commercial fishing on the Klamath River.
Environmentalists claim the dams don’t produce much hydropower, do not offer flood control, and fish improvement upgrades would be economically infeasible. But, in the 1950’s, the City of Los Angeles had planned the Ah Pah Dam on the Klamath river to convey water to Southern California. Instead, they decided to get water from the Colorado River. The Klamath is the second largest river by volume in the state and almost the same capacity as the Colorado River. This alone should refute environmentalist’s claims that new dams would not solve California’s water needs.
FERC’s recent decision deals only with the transfer of the hydropower license not dam removal, which will be decided at a later date. There is reportedly no environmental clearances for removal of the dams as yet. Buffett’s dams were purchased in 2005 for $9.4 million, based solely on the value of hydropower, but would have been conveyed to the non-profit KRRC as a gift without requiring fair market value.
The proposed dam removal project does not address what to do with the $4.5 billion cost to remove 20 million acre-feet of sediment behind the dams. To allow the sediment to flow downstream would cause catastrophic environmental and wildlife damage. This does not include the inestimable liability cost to remove the agricultural toxins in that sediment.
Ironically, in 2019, a federal court granted Klamath Basin tribes senior water rights in what would apparently be contaminated water after the dams would be removed.
Despite the catastrophic environmental damages that would result from dam removals, politicians and the media have been heralding that the project was a done deal. In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown stated:
“This is a good exercise of humankind correcting some of the mistakes that it’s made in the past,” Brown said while speaking on restoring the quality of the river. —… Now, putting it back together with science, with skill, with engineering, with a sense of beauty and sense of respect and obligation to the land that we’ve been given and the people that have taken care of it for so long — that’s a very profound challenge.“… We’re starting to get it right after so many years of getting it wrong,” Brown continued.”
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