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U.S. should do study of dams, salmon

Published Feb. 29, 2004

A prominent committee of scientists has called for a basinwide approach to Klamath water problems.

The Bush administration has endorsed that notion and said its spending will be guided by the idea.

Last week, the Klamath Watershed Conference buzzed with talk about dealing with the problems basinwide.

Given that sentiment, all of it aimed in the right direction, it's impossible to consider the relicensing of Klamath River dams without talking about their impact on fish runs. Reconsidering the dams happens but twice a century, and the task should begin with the basics.

So, deciding whether PacifCorp should keep the licenses to operate its dams on the Klamath River project should begin by deciding whether the economic and other benefits of the dams outweigh any negative impacts on fish runs.

Fishing interests and others have long maintained that Iron Gate Dam - the biggest barrier to upstream salmon movement - has severely damaged the salmon run on the lower Klamath. Iron Gate Dam is just south of the Oregon-California border, and has a hatchery designed to mitigate damage.

There's a lot more to the problem of depleted salmon production on the lower Klamath than the dams or, for that matter, the Klamath Reclamation Project, which is almost a sister issue to the dams. It's awfully easy for downstream interests to look upstream - and past the effects of overfishing and changing ocean conditions.

The dams are vital to the Upper Klamath Basin economy - especially irrigators - and PacifiCorp has been a good steward of the complex.

In its application, PacifiCorp didn't deal with the issue of taking out the dams: Link River, Keno, J.C. Boyle, Iron Gate and Copco 1 and 2.

PacifiCorp's conviction as to their necessity is built in. Thus, it would seem to fall to government agencies to justify - or not - the already-existing dams for another 50 years.

When the National Research Council's committee on the Klamath Basin released its report a year ago, it said that the 2001 shutoff of irrigation water to the Klamath Project wasn't justified, and that the 2002 fish dieoff on the lower Klamath River couldn't be attributed to the Klamath Project - things that found favor with many in the Basin.

The Council also recommended studying removal of Iron Gate Dam, and the possible closure of Iron Gate salmon hatchery, which produces salmon fingerlings.

The report has an "all or nothing" logic to it - if it was right on the 2001 water cutoff and the 2002 fish dieoff, then it's hard to say it's wrong about studying closure of Iron Gate Dam.

PacifCorp's license will expire in 2006. Its application is on its way to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Let's do the study.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board, which consists of Publisher John Walker, Editor Tim Fought, City Editor Todd Kepple and Opinion Editor Pat Bushey.

 

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