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Calif. wants a look at dam removal

Tam Moore Oregon Staff Writer 9/23/05

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – California has sided with Klamath Basin American Indian tribes, urging that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission mandate a study of Klamath dam removal as part of renewing Klamath hydroelectric licenses that expire March 31, 2006.

Dwight Russell, a California Department of Water Resources regional manager, put the objection on the record last week while fielding a question during the Klamath River Compact Commission annual meeting. He’s California’s representative on the interstate commission formed under 1957 law.

“We want a look at taking out all dams as an option,” he said.

Questioned by Deb Crisp of Tulelake Growers Association, Russell also said California wants the FERC to order a study of alternatives to hydroelectric generation of the project’s 151 megawatts of electricity. It’s cranked out by plants scattered from Klamath Falls downstream to Iron Gate Dam, about 5 miles east of I-5 in California’s Siskiyou County.

When construction began on Copco Dam No. 1 in 1913, salmon and steelhead were blocked from hundreds of miles of streams, most of them in Oregon. Filling of the reservoir began in 1918, and in 1921 the impoundment was raised, giving the dam a vertical rise of 126 feet above a rocky Klamath River canyon.

Water behind the Copco and Iron Gate reservoirs turns hot most summers, making conditions tough for fish. For the past three weeks toxic algae has been part of reservoir discharges.

PacifiCorp, the Portland-based owner of the dams, said it wouldn’t study dam removal on its own. But this fall, as time runs out for a settlement with the tribes and California, the company is talking behind closed doors about additional conditions it might accept to get a new 50-year license.

“We are still in the process,” PacifiCorp spokesman Jon Coney said by phone from his Portland office.

Coney said he’s not aware of any existing studies on alternate power-generation sources. Klamath electricity goes into a regional power grid tapped by eight Western states. PacifiCorp had a contractor model water quality for the project’s reach of the Klamath River – with existing dams and powerhouses, and without those dams and powerhouses.

The company’s consultants also looked at salmon survival in the reservoirs with their inhospitable summer conditions, and at practicality and cost to build fish passage. When initial studies came out, Toby Freeman, head of PacifiCorp’s relicensing operation, said it didn’t appear reasonable to invest in expensive fish passage facilities only to have fish not survive reservoir conditions. More recent studies on suitability of over 700 miles of upstream waters to salmon haven’t been publicly reported since they were launched in 2004.

Coney said he doesn’t know what work has been done since. There’s been talk that any settlement conditions need to be complete “some time this fall,” but Coney said he doesn’t know of any firm FERC deadline. The federal regulators have had the relicensing application for over one year.

Part of the relicensing is what triggered the question to Russell during the compact meeting. PacifiCorp’s predecessor agreed 50 years ago to give irrigators in the Klamath Reclamation Project, including several beyond irrigated project cropland, a deep discount on pump rates – a half-cent per kilowatt-hour inside the project, 0.75 cents per Kwh beyond.

The company served notice it intends to let that contract expire unless FERC again makes it a term of the contract.

Klamath farmers asked the compact commission earlier this year to send FERC a letter quoting Article IV of the compact that calls for “lowest power rates which may be reasonable for irrigation and drainage pumping, including pumping from wells.”

Russell said because California wasn’t getting satisfaction from FERC on the dam removal study, it didn’t want to confuse that issue with the power contract.



Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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