What may be the world's biggest-ever dam removal is closer to happening in Oregon and California after years of talks—and without approval from Congress. Both states, federal officials, and the utility PacifiCorp are among those who agreed on April 6 to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, which runs from Oregon into California, reports National Geographic. "It's certainly the most significant dam removal and restoration project ever undertaken," says an environmental advocate. Why do it? The dams are blocking 300 miles of salmon and steelhead migration, ruining a valuable fishery and depriving local tribes of food, Field & Stream reports. And toxic algae blooms in the dam's lakes are poisoning rivers and killing off fish. "To me, it’s an environmental injustice," says Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry.
The utility has also put in place wind and solar facilities with 10 times the generating capacity of the dams, per the group American Rivers. But critics say the plan deprives California of property taxes and never got Congressional approval, the LA Times reports. In that vein, a California lawmaker blames the dam removal on "environmental extremists, bureaucrats in Sacramento and Washington, and a taxpayer bailout for billionaire Warren Buffett." Indeed, PacifiCorp—which is owned by Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.—will avoid spending hundreds of millions on environmental and water-quality upgrades to the dams. Removing the dams should cost around $300 million, paid for by a PacifiCorp customer surcharge and a California water bond. Target date for removal is 2020, pending approval by federal regulators. (Meanwhile, Saudis are saving water by snapping up US farmland.)