Tribes Seek Klamath Dam RemovalLeaf Hillman dreams of a Klamath River running red with salmon all the way to the
upper Klamath Basin.
By Steve Kadel, K-Falls Herald & News
The Karuk Tribe member of California recalls an era when salmon freely negotiated
the river's 350-mile northern reaches. Then, the Basin was the West Coast's third most productive salmon
Escapement totals - fish that returned to their spawning grounds - averaged 660,000
to 1.1 million annually. Chinook, or king salmon, filled the Klamath's waters along with coho, chum and
A series of dams built in the early 1900s changed everything. Since then - despite
treaty rights allowing Klamath Tribes to fish for salmon - that key cultural and subsistence activity is
only a memory because dams prevent passage upstream.
The Klamath Tribes, along with the Karuk and
Yurok tribes of California, want that changed. And they got support this week from two powerful federal
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries recommended that fish ladders and
turbine screens be installed at four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River below the Oregon-California
line. They want the additions to be required as part of PacifiCorp's re-licensing by the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission, which is pending.
However, PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme said that would
cost about $200 million and require electricity rates to increase. He added that a hatchery at Iron Gate
Dam already lures 20,000 salmon back to spawn each year.
Tribes see things differently. “The Klamath
dams are poor producers of electricity, they do not provide flood control, they do not provide irrigation
or drinking water - all they do is kill fish,” Hillman said.
“This is destroying tribal cultures as
well as the California and Oregon fishing economies. It's time to hold PacifiCorp responsible.”
The Klamath Tribes stand with their California neighbors on the issue. Chairman Allen Foreman notes that
Tribes members in Oregon haven't fished for salmon since the first dam was built in 1917.
Klamath generally favor removal of the dams,” said Bud Ullman, water lawyer for the Klamath Tribes.
“That's plainly what's best for the resource.”
Neither NOAA Fisheries nor Fish and Wildlife went
that far in their recommendations. However, tribes believe it is a good starting point.
and screens would not solve the problem of toxic algae blooms, according to Karuk water quality
specialist Susan Corum. Such blooms in Klamath reservoirs last summer exceeded the World Health
Organization standard for moderate risk by more than 100 times, she said.
The toxic blooms affect
water quality and “threaten those of us who live downstream,” Corum said. Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast
Federation of Fishermen's Associations agrees the dams should be taken out.
“We cannot restore
salmonwithout improving water quality and providing access to spawning habitat,” he said. “The only way
to do that is by removing those dams.”
Karuk Tribe spokesman Craig Tucker said removal is a better
economic step, too. He estimates removal would cost half as much as building ladders, while allowing
better fish passage.
Kvamme said PacifiCorp's license application does not address the issue.
“There are a number of reasons why we don't think any significant numbers of fish could be
produced in the upper Basin,” he said. “The water quality coming out of Upper Klamath Lake is not good.
“With the lake in the condition it is, and with runoff and other agricultural, logging and past
mining activities we don't think it makes much sense.”
The expensive fish ladders would include one
at Iron Gate Dam stretching more than a mile, Kvamme said.
He challenged the contention that the
dams - Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, J.C. Boyle and Iron Gate - don't produce much energy. Their combined
output is enough for 70,000 customers, he said.
“That's more than enough electricity to serve all
our customers in California and many more,” Kvamme said. “We don't think it's an insignificant amount of
It would require burning 360 tons of coal or consuming 5 million cubic feet of gas to
equal the lost power if dams were closed, he said.
Fish and Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries don't have
authority to demand dams be removed or fish ladders be installed. The Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission will make the final decision in its re-licensing agreement.
Meanwhile, a wide-ranging
group of stakeholders has met for the past year in hopes of finding a collaborative solution. Talks have
included representatives from the Klamath Water Users Association, four tribes, PacifiCorp, off-project
water users, environmental groups, commercial fishing organizations, and Oregon and California state
Greg Addington, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, said his membership
might go along with dam removal if they won certain concessions.
Those include reliable and
affordable electric power, certainty of water availability each year for irrigation, and a “safe harbor”
as far as fish passage is concerned.
The latter means irrigators would be held harmless as far as
water consumption by another endangered species - salmon - entering the upper Basin.
“We're a long
way from getting that done,” Addington said. “But if the parties at the table can help us achieve those
things, then we wouldn't say no to dam removal.”
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