GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - The governors of Oregon and California announced Thursday they will convene a summit to find solutions for the environmental problems plaguing the Klamath River Basin and its salmon runs, including removing hydroelectric dams.
Noting that PacifiCorp, a Portland-based utility, has said it was willing to consider removing the dams to help salmon as long as customers did not have to pay more for electricity, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said that should be the top issue for the summit.
"We have the problems of water quality, water supply, listed species, energy generation, and agricultural sustainability expressed in countless ways in the Klamath Basin," Kulongoski said in a statement. "We must forge a consensus on a sustainable approach to the Klamath."
The Klamath has been the site of bitter battles over water allocations between farmers and fish since 2001, when irrigation was cut off to most of the 1,000 farms in the Klamath Reclamation Project straddling the Oregon-California border on the east side of the Cascade Range in order to provide water for threatened coho salmon.
When full irrigation was restored, tens of thousands of adult salmon died from gill rot diseases while crowded into warm pools of the river by low water.
This year, federal fisheries managers cut the commercial salmon catch by 90 percent off Oregon and California after Klamath returns were projected to fall below minimum spawning goals for the third year in a row.
Meanwhile, PacifiCorp is coming under increasing pressure to remove the Iron Gate, Copco I, Copco II and J.C. Boyle dams to open 350 miles of historical spawning habitat as it seeks a new federal operating license. The company did not immediately return a telephone call for comment.
No date or location has been set, but the governors, who are both running for re-election, said they had the support of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
"We believe there is an important role for the federal government to play in crafting a long-term solution to these challenges," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "It is appropriate that the federal agencies and Congress take an active role shaping a sustainable approach to protecting these vital resources."
Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, which represents California salmon fishermen, said it was likely to be held in mid-December, either in Klamath Falls or Redding, Calif.
The idea was put forward last July by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., a long-standing supporter of Klamath farmers, but leadership shifted to the governors, who raised it at long-standing talks among the various interest groups seeking a negotiated solution to PacifiCorp's license application, said Spain and Greg Addington of the Klamath Water Users Association.
"People are just tired," Addington said. "Nobody's winning. If anything, everybody's losing. I think there is a real good will up and down the basin and it is time to strike while the iron is hot."
Spain characterized the gathering as the first real step forward since the two states and federal agencies signed a memorandum of understanding two years ago pledging to make the Klamath Basin a top priority.
Noting that solutions for the Klamath are going to require federal legislation and money, Addington said it remained unclear just what would come out of the summit.
Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild, a conservation group formerly known as the Oregon Natural Resources Council, said he was glad to see that the leadership had been taken over by Schwarzenegger and Kulongoski, who were likely to give fishermen and conservation groups a greater say than Walden and the Bush administration, who have favored farmers.
After five years without any appreciable progress in solving the basin's environmental problems, farmers were ready to compromise, said Bob Gasser, a fertilizer dealer and member of the Klamath Water Users Association. "We'll all have to give some," Gasser said. "We just need to sit down and decide what we can get by without and move on and help the fish and help the farmers.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)