Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
As I See It
You can't have it both ways
by Pat Ratliff, Klamath Courier April 19, 2006
According to the news media lately, it seems half of Western Civilization now wants the removal of the dams on the Klamath River. Removing the dams will not only cure all the problems of the Klamath River, but also produce an abundance of ocean salmon, make the earth one with itself and eventually lead to world peace.
I'm all for that, but I think there are a few things we may have overlooked.
The dams were built not only for generating electricity but also for flood control.
For the purposes of this article, let's stick our heads in the sand and just ignore the fact that we all need electricity and concentrate on one word - flood control.
According to Liz Bowen of the Pioneer Press, Siskiyou County flood damage topped 7 million dollars earlier this year. This is with dams in place to hold back rising water levels as much as possible.
Siskiyou County Sheriff Rick Riggins declared a flood disaster. On January 3, 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in 16 counties that were ravaged by winter storms.
FEMA reported damage was estimated at over 35 million dollars from winter flooding.
President Bush signed a Declaration of Emergency for 10 Northern California counties, including Siskiyou.
More than 5 million dollars will be needed just for road repair in Siskiyou County.
The Happy Camp News reported that the Klamath River Valley was inundated with far more rainwater than the river can hold.
More than 20 people had to be evacuated along the Klamath River.
All this damage occurred during a very high but nowhere near record level of rainfall.
Flood control measures were being taken at all the dams upstream, including the dam on the Trinity River. High amounts of rainfall in the Klamath Basin were also being stored, instead of being sent downstream to add to the flooding on the lower river.
Imagine the damage that would have occurred if those Klamath River dams weren't in place.
To help you imagine the damage, let's look at a little history of floods on the Northern California coast, quoted from the Redwood National Park history.
The flood of 1861-1862
On the Klamath River, Fort Ter-Wah and the Wau-Kell were engulfed by swirling flood waters, and most of the buildings were swept away or wrecked. Damage was so great that the post and agency were abandoned.
The damage to the forests (before any commercial logging) was staggering. William H. Brewer, a professor of Agriculture in the Sheffied Scientific School, visited the site almost two years later. He found that the swirling waters had brought down a tremendous quantity of wood, most of which was cast upon the beaches between Crescent City and the Klamath. He wrote, "It is thrown up in great piles, often a mile long, and the size of some of those logs is tremendous." He had measured at least 20 logs. Although they were worn by water and their bark was gone, it was not uncommon to find logs 150 feet long and four feet in diameter at the small end, without the bark.
Other reports stated the beach at Crescent City for eight miles was covered to a width of 200 yards and a depth of from three to eight feet deep with debris.
The flood of 1890
At Martin's Ferry, the Klamath rose 100 feet and carried away a suspension bridge.
The flood of 1955
High water on the Klamath drove over 1000 people from their homes. The south approach to the Douglas Bridge was washed away. The communities of Klamath, Klamath Glen and Orick were evacuated and suffered fearful damage. Klamath was inundated. Only the second stories and roofs protruded above the churning, muddy water.
The Douglas Bridge, across the Klamath was carried away, but the two golden bears, guarding the bridge remained. The two service stations that had formerly stood on either side of the bridge were gone.
President Lyndon B. Johnson on Christmas Eve, declared the flood stricken region a disaster area. A survey of the Red Cross disclosed that in Del Norte county alone, there were 3,000 homeless and about 850 homes had been destroyed. Damage was estimated at 40,000,000 million dollars.
So, I ask you, why should we care whether the dams come out? If you want death and destruction downriver every time a "pineapple express" hits Northern California and Southern Oregon, then by all means take the dams out.
If you want to add to your tax bills by paying the federal aid every time these events occur, then by all means take them out.
If you want your electric bill to proudly bear the rate increase from the lack of renewable energy, then by all means take them out.
Oh, there are a few more miniscule charges associated with taking the dams out.
Our good friends at American Rivers, California Trout, Friends of the River, Trout Unlimited, World Wildlife Fund and the Klamath River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission funded a study in 2003 to estimate the costs of removing the dams. Mind you, they aren't offering to pay the costs, only estimating the additional costs thrust upon the public.
Dam removal costs
Those are 2003 estimates, so feel free to add a few million dollars for increased present day costs.
Our good friends were also kind enough to list other costs associated with taking out the dams. Again, they weren't offering to pay for that, just giving an estimate of how much it would cost us.
Estimated ANNUAL costs of producing Klamath hydropower with alternate sources are as follows
Natural Gas $27 million
Cogeneration $31 million
Coal $21.6 million
I am assuming this does not include the cost of the associated lawsuits filed by these same groups to stop any of those alternative power projects from ever coming into being.
The stated reason for taking out the dams is for fish passage up the Klamath River.
I haven't finished my own scientific study yet on whether fish could actually be trucked upriver past the dams and released, as is done downriver in so many places, but once I get a huge federal grant, I'm going to look in on that.
Fish ladders are estimated at $150 million dollars, which looks a bargain compared to $36 million dollars for removal and an ANNUAL cost of somewhere around $27 million dollars to replace the power.
I've also put in for a couple of other federal grants for scientific studies.
One would study the reason why, if eco-groups and certain tribes want the fish ladders built, then why wouldn't they be offering to pay for it. I'm not sure whether that's a psychological problem or just purely economical.
The last study I hope to initiate is to find out just what good if any taking out the dams would achieve. I've heard all the stories; I just haven't heard a good reason for it yet.
People, many of who live downstream from the dams, asking for dam removal with loads of history showing they will suffer death, destruction and economic loss, it just doesn't make sense. Maybe there's more to it. We'll see.
There's also a question of liability. If Pacific Power takes out the dams, are they suddenly responsible for the sure to follow floods? If groups sue to take out the dams, would they be responsible for the destruction until new dams were built for flood control?
What would the cost be to rebuild the dams after the first major loss of life and property, and who would pay for rebuilding the dams after the foolishness of all this is fully understood.
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