Salmon Above the Dams
Driscoll, Eureka Times-Standard
November 12, 2005
A fierce debate and charges of
misrepresenting scientific work on what’s best for salmon on the Klamath River have risen from the reams
of papers submitted to the federal agency charged with relicensing the river’s dams.
new on one of the West’s most troubled rivers. This time the contention is over a report requested by major
parties in the proceedings. It found that taking out all of PacifiCorp’s dams is most likely the best
option for fish.
But when PacifiCorp filed its consultant’s paper with the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission, it included its own take, which cast a most pessimistic view on dam removal. The consultant
lashed back, charging that the utility grossly misrepresented her work.
She was backed up by
California agencies, conservation groups and tribes, who excoriated PacifiCorp for bucking the methods
the group had agreed upon.
Gretchen Oosterhout owns the Eagle Point, Ore., company Decision Matrix.
Her report used computer modeling to rank 13 alternatives ranging from no change, to trucking fish around
dams to pulling out all five dams.
The report was intended to help FERC decide which alternative it
should order as part of issuing a new license for the project in 2006. To say the least, the report and
the methods used to draw the conclusion are esoteric and highly complicated. And while everyone agrees
there is significant uncertainty involved, the methods are widely believed to be the best available.
When PacifiCorp’s take on her paper was fraught with error, Oosterhout said in a Sept. 29 response. She
said PacifiCorp’s assertions that fish passage above the dams would be futile are mistaken.
the analyses done to date show conclusively that PacifiCorp’s pessimism is unsupported by the best
available analyses,” Oosterhout wrote, “and, to the contrary, strongly suggest there’s an excellent
chance of success.”
Two recent studies -- one published in the American Fisheries Society Journal
and another by a Klamath Tribes consultant -- found that salmon historically migrated into the upper
reaches of the watershed, into Oregon’s Sprague, Williamson and Wood rivers above Upper Klamath Lake.
Several hundred miles of spawning habitat is available above the dams, aquatic biologist C.W. Huntington
This vast territory is what once supported the third largest run of salmon on the West
Coast. The dams, logging, mining, overfishing, water diversions and other factors have all damaged the
runs. Today, fish runs are bolstered by a major hatchery at Iron Gate Dam -- which stops all fish at
river mile 190. They are susceptible to disease in a warm, shallow river, weakening runs and affecting
tribal and sport fishing on the river, and commercial fishing up and down the coast.
contends that there is considerable uncertainty as to whether young chinook salmon could navigate Upper
Klamath Lake if they were allowed to reach it. The company also says that assumptions plugged into the
model can significantly alter the results of the modeling and show salmon would be at risk of extinction.
”There’s nothing unusual about this,” said PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme of the company
weighing in on the report. “This is the way documents are handled during the FERC process.”
PacifiCorp’s position roiled some of the agencies involved.
”PacifiCorp is misusing tools developed
to aid fisheries restoration to erroneously conclude that salmon and steelhead cannot survive in the
Klamath River above Iron Gate Dam,” wrote Russ Kans, an environmental scientist for the State Water
Resources Control Board.
Others see PacifiCorp’s stance as typical in comparison with other
utilities called upon to make up for their projects’ impacts on other rivers. How PacifiCorp positions
itself during the proceedings can affect what they give up in the end, said Curtis Knight with
California Trout, who is closely involved in both the FERC process and in parallel settlement talks.
”It’s everybody covering themselves,” Knight said. “I think the utilities take that to an extreme. I
think we’re seeing a bit of that now.”
Some preliminary cost estimates done by PacifiCorp on
providing traditional fish ladders and screens to get fish through the gauntlet of dams and reservoirs
reached more than $100 million. Estimates done by conservation groups found that all of the dams might
be removed for less than $50 million, though some believe all those costs could be twice that much.
”It’s not rocket science to realize that taking out the dams would open up some habitat,” said Annie
Manji, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game.
Oosterhout’s analysis is critical to help learn which alternatives are best, not just how much each will
In the end, FERC must weigh hundreds of pounds of documents and come to a decision, taking
into account progress on the settlement talks. Its decision will shape the future of the river for up to
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