Governor Gavin Newsom asks Warren Buffet to make his PacifiCorp honor the Klamath Dam Agreement

  • Published on July 31st, 2020

While many salmon advocates oppose several of California Governor Gavin Newson’s key water policies such as the Delta Tunnel, Sites Reservoir and the Big Ag-promoted voluntary agreements, a coalition of Tribes, fishing groups and conservation organizations today praised Newsom for urging the owners of four Klamath River dams to stick with a dam removal agreement.

klamath dam vs salmon
Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River blocks salmon and steelhead from migrating up the river and its tributaries. Photo by Dan Bacher.

By Dan Bacher

Newsom sent a letter to Warren Buffett and leaders at Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) asking the company to not pull out of the agreement to remove four aging Klamath River hydroelectric dams along the California-Oregon border, according to a press release from the coalition.

Warran Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is the parent company of PacifiCorp, the owner and operator of the dams. “PacifiCorp is now threatening to walk away from the agreement and instead pursue the much riskier process of relicensing the dams,” the coalition stated.

Governor Newsom’s letter states:

“Since time immemorial, the indigenous peoples of the Klamath Basin have stewarded the Klamath River, the second-largest river in California and once the third-biggest salmon producing river on the west coast. It served as a centerpiece of community, culture, and sustenance. Then beginning 100 years ago, construction of dams threatened this way of life, devastated salmon runs and altered the characteristics of the river itself. A century later, the river is sick, and the Klamath Basin tribes are suffering.

We stand at an unprecedented moment of reckoning about our past and, more importantly, our future. In this moment, we have the opportunity and obligation to see ourselves clearly and decide whether we are living up to the values that I firmly believe all Californians stand for: equity, inclusion and accountability.”  

The river is sick, and the Klamath Basin tribes are suffering. The Klamath River dam removal project is a shining example of what we can accomplish when we act according to our values. … We have never been closer to removing these now-obsolete dams to restore the river on which the Klamath Basin tribes so directly depend.”

Governor Gavin Newsom’s letter is available in full here.

In response to Governor Newsom’s letter, the Karuk Tribe, Yurok Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and conservation groups American Rivers, California Trout, Klamath Riverkeeper, Trout Unlimited, Save California Salmon and Sustainable Northwest issued the following statement of support:

“With every year that passes, Klamath River salmon edge closer to extinction. While we are gratified that PacifiCorp remains willing to talk, we can’t afford any more delays in this process. It’s time for Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp to do the right thing and allow this dam removal agreement to move forward.

“It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s in the financial interests of PacifiCorp’s ratepayers and Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders. The agreement offers PacifiCorp unprecedented liability protections and $250 million in public funding. Walking away from the agreement will put PacifiCorp ratepayers on the hook for all the risks and liabilities associated with fish kills, toxic algae blooms, lawsuits, and violations of Tribal rights. We urge Warren Buffet and PacifiCorp to end the delays and move the dam removal process forward immediately.” 

A 2016 agreement proposed to transfer the dams from PacifiCorp to the non-profit Klamath River Renewal Corporation for purposes of removal. The agreement allows PacifiCorp to transfer the dams and contribute $200 million to the KRRC “in exchange for a clean break from the project,” according to the Tribes and groups.

“However, earlier this month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted conditional approval for the project but required PacifiCorp to remain on the license for the dams until they are removed. PacifiCorp is now threatening to back out on the agreement. Parties to the agreement (including Tribes, conservation groups, fishermen, local counties, California and Oregon) view the FERC ruling as PacifiCorp not getting what it wants, but still getting what it needs – the least cost alternative to relicensing the dams,” they stated.

in a statement released after the FERC decision, Russell Attebery, chairman of the Karuk Tribe, said, “We can work with this. We understand that we will need to reconvene settlement parties and make adjustments as needed to reflect PacifiCorp’s goals.”

Newsom’s letter to PacifCorp comes at a time when the California Governor is facing intense opposition to agribusiness-promoted water projects that he is forging ahead with. The day before he sent his letter to Buffet, the Governor unveiled a final version of his controversial Water Resilience Portfolio, a water plan that that includes the Delta Tunnel, Sites Reservoir and the agribusiness-promoted “voluntary agreements.”

That plan drew praise from agribusiness interests and water agencies — and strong criticism from salmon advocates, Tribal leaders and environmental justice leaders for the damage that they say the  tunnel, new reservoir and voluntary agreements would could cause to the San Francisco Bay-Delta Ecosystem, imperiled salmon and steelhead populations and West Coast fisheries.

For more information:

Governor Newsom releases final water portfolio that includes Delta Tunnel, Sites Reservoir

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.

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