The Yurok Indian tribe of Northern California has the most members of any Indian tribe in California.  For centuries the Yurok have harvested salmon as a staple food and an important part of their traditional religious ceremonies.  Dams on the Klamath River threaten the status of migratory salmon in the River, and the Yurok want these dams to be removed.   The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) also advocates dam removal, for the conservation of fish populations important to fishermen.  The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations protects and empowers small and medium-scale fishermen against powerful government and corporate interests.  The company which built the dams, PacifiCorp, provides electricity to customers in Oregon, Washington, and California and generates about 6% of this energy through hydroelectric dams in these three states.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently deciding whether to renew PacifiCorp's license for operation of the dams in the Klamath Hydroelectric Project.  State and federal agencies manage the land on which the dams are situated and enforce laws relevant to the Klamath River.  Other important parties to the dispute include non-governmental organizations and other Indian tribes.

(Click here to learn more about Who is involved in this dispute)

Members of the Yurok tribe and other dam opponents assert that hydroelectric dams on the Lower Klamath River have caused the decline of salmon which are important to their health and livelihoods. The dam opponents claim that the dams obstruct the passage of salmon upstream to their breeding grounds and cause diseases in salmon.  The dams benefit only PacifiCorp and its customers, while causing harm to the Yurok, fishermen, and others who depend on Klamath salmon.  PacifiCorp sees the dispute largely as an economic one, and would like to continue to operate the dams on a new license, with modifications for fish passage if necessary.  The California and Oregon state governments must take into account the interests of multiple parties in the dispute.  State and federal governments also often view this dispute as one over the applications and meanings of laws; agencies take various positions depending on their views on how various laws reflect this dispute.

(For more information about this conflict, visit the What section)

The dispute over the Klamath dams has been addressed in many arenas, including the consideration of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which will determine whether and on what terms PacifiCorp may obtain a new license for dam operation.  Parties to the dispute have communicated through lawsuits, meetings, informal negotiations, and the media.  Court cases have involved issues including applications of state water law and tribal water rights (Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (2001)), the Endangered Species Act, and other issues involving the rights and responsibilities of various parties.  Several federal departments have been involved in court cases in the Klamath dispute, including the Forest Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.  State departments which have been involved include the California Department of Fish and Game and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations has also participated in the many lawsuits. 

(To learn more about the arenas in which this issue has been addressed, go to the Where section)

In November 2007, FERC released its final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the renewal of PacifiCorp's contract for the Klamath Hydroelectric Program.  FERC considered the alternatives of dam removal, various dam modification scenarios, and maintenance of dams in their current state.  FERC determined that the best of these options was to "issue a new license" which modified PacifiCorp's initial proposal with further "environmental measures" to ensure fish passage (FERC).  The best alternative for those opposing the dams could be to build their coalition by communicating with hydropower users about the issues and helping to find ways to meet the needs of water and electricity users without dams.  PacifiCorp's best course of action is to continue to operate the dams with as few modifications as possible.  According to a 2006 study by the California Energy Commission (Spain 2007) extensive modifications would likely be more expensive than dam removal.     

(Click here to learn more about How this conflict is being resolved)  

To view the sources I have used in studying this case, go to the References  section.

I think that several Colby courses could relate to this issue and be helpful in understanding the issue, and that this might be a useful case study for these courses. To view these Related Courses, click here.

Below is a map of the Klamath River Basin.

Links to Who, What, Where, How, References, and Related Courses

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