FILE — Oregon Klamath JC Boyle Dam

The J.C. Boyle Dam on the Klamath River, pictured here in 2009, is one of four dams set to be removed under an interstate agreement reached between Oregon and California in 2020. The agreement must be approved by federal authorities.

(The Center Square) — A Northern California water users' association has filed a motion against a $450 million plan to tear down four dams on the Klamath River they claim irrevocably hurts local homeowners.

The motion was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last Wednesday by the Murphy and Buchal Law firm on behalf of the Siskiyou County Water Users Association.

It claims the interstate agreement reached by Oregon and California last year to remove the dams has incurred "irreparable damage" to lakefront home values in the COPCO Lake area as water levels are feared to decline.

The motion names as defendants the nonprofit tasked with overseeing the dams' removal, the Klamath River Renewal Project, and the dams' prior owner, energy giant PacifiCorp.

In the motion, the association alleges the states' agreement with PacifiCorp to assume management of the dams was unscientific and tailored for unspecified "special interest groups" and purely political. 

The association is being represented by attorney James Buchal of the Murphy & Buchal law firm, a former Oregon state House candidate and the Multnomah County chair of the Oregon GOP. He has represented the far-right group Patriot Prayer and sued Oregon Gov. Kate Brown over state health orders in October.

Built in the early 20th century, the four dams sitting on the Klamath River have been the source of much controversy among California and Oregon residents for its effects on the environment and local water rights.

The dams, which offer little to no flood control and do not irrigate farmland, have been the source of costly court orders mandating fish passageways.

Efforts to remove the dams have been backed by indigenous tribes such as the Klamath Peoples and environmentalists. Supporters of the dam largely include water users of Siskiyou County.

The association also alleges that the agreement violates the 1957 Klamath River Compact between Oregon and California with congressional consent.

Members further claim there is scarce scientific evidence that removing the dams would help native fish population which have declined by the tens of thousands since the dams' creation.

Those salmon are not native to the area, according to undisclosed 19th century accounts referenced in the motion, despite historical evidence to the contrary.

The motion references a 2001 report by the National Academy of Sciences from contradicting those from federal authorities which have called for raising Klamath River water levels to preserve endangered salmon. Some research suggests river dams' relationship with salmon survival rates during seasonal migration may not be a causal one in all regions, however.

The motion claims removing the dams would release tons of sediment and algae blooms, spelling disaster for the environment, though research has pointed to the dams themselves as contributors to algae concentration.

Under the motion, association members are requesting FERC decommission the dam removal project and restore the dams' license to PacifiCorp.

Approval of the interstate Klamath dam removal project is expected sometime in 2022 by FERC.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.