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An opening on the Klamath

A requirement of costly fish passage on four dams should clear the way for change on a troubled river
The Oregonian editorial, February 26, 2007
(KBC NOTE: The Oregonian continues it's agenda-driven mission with many untruths. Contrary to the Oregonian article, according to Fish and Wildlife, the runoff from Klamath Project goes through the refuges and is not polluted; no fish or wildlife have died or become sick from the returned water. And see photo on the left; it's dry Link River, a common occurrence before the Klamath Project was built. The Project provides for irrigation, and constant regulated flows for power and fish. The National Academy of Science states that 2002 water levels are not responsible for the 2002 fish die-off, and fish survival does not depend on artificially-elevated flows.)

T he Klamath has long been a river of walls -- hydroelectric dams, rock-hard economic choices and dead-end politics.

But now, for the first time in decades, there is an opening on the Klamath. The federal government is requiring fish ladders at PacifiCorp's four dams on the river as a condition of a renewed license to operate the dams.

Installing fish passage at the four dams would cost at least $300 million, perhaps more. And there's the opening: If either the utility or its ratepayers are going to make such a huge investment in the Klamath River, wouldn't it make more economic and environmental sense to breach the dams, replace the modest amount of electricity they produce and end up with a cleaner, cooler and healthier river?

It is at least worth fully exploring all the choices. There is a lot at stake here. The Klamath was once the West Coast's third-greatest producer of Pacific salmon. But last year the entire West Coast ocean salmon fishing season was all but shut down because of the collapse of Klamath salmon. Meanwhile, the farmers in the upper Klamath Basin have spent years consumed in fights over water and endangered species, including salmon.

Over the span, downriver Native American tribes have seen their fishing cultures all but wiped out. And nearly every fall, they are treated to the appalling sight of fish die-offs triggered by the shallow and polluted river.

The politics on the Klamath, like the river itself, often run dangerously hot. Yet farmers, tribes and fishermen all are now participating in negotiations over the future of the river and its dams. PacifiCorp has taken part in the talks before, and should rejoin the negotiations. Meanwhile, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are considering a summit meeting on the Klamath.

The governors need to get involved. PacifiCorp responded to the federal government's order by vowing to spend the $300 million on fish ladders. On other occasions, its executives have signaled that they are open to dam removal, if there is a way to shield electricity ratepayers from most of the costs.

It's not clear whether or how the two states could provide incentives to encourage PacifiCorp to remove the dams and replace the 150 megawatts they now produce. There are questions about sediment built up behind the dams. Farmers in the upper basin are looking to settle issues over their use of water for irrigation. Tribes have other concerns.

It all sounds dauntingly complicated, and of course the Klamath has crushed hopes before. For generations, the Klamath River has been a place where things go to die -- not just salmon and steelhead, but also dreams and good intentions.

Yet the federal government's fish passage requirement means that one way or another, wild salmon are going to be swimming far up the Klamath River for the first time in decades.

This is not just their opening. It's ours.

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