By Jonathan J. Cooper, The Associated Press
Endangered salmon blocked for nearly a century from hundreds of miles of the Klamath River in Oregon and California are expected to return en masse under unusual agreements signed Wednesday to tear down four hydroelectric dams.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who signed agreements with the governors of both states, said the plan would bring about one of the largest river restoration projects in the history of the U.S.
The landmark deals also protect farmers and ranchers from rising power and water prices as the various interests work to end long-running water wars in the drought-stricken Klamath River basin.
Dams threat to Yurok culture
The dams now block fish from migrating to their historic spawning grounds and also degrade water quality, spreading fish diseases and algae blooms. Salmon are sacred to some Native American tribes that use them for subsistence and ceremony.
“Our allocation of fish this year doesn’t meet half of our subsistence for our people,” said Yurok Tribe Vice Chairman David Gensaw. “This is a threat to our culture, our religion and the economic survival of our people.”
The Klamath basin has been the site of tense disputes between tribes, environmentalists, farmers and ranchers for nearly two decades.
In 2001, water deliveries to farmers and ranchers were severely curtailed. Adult salmon suffered a major die-off a year later. Salmon harvests have been sharply reduced for the tribes as well as recreational and commercial fishers.