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New plan adds fish ladders

Herald and News, by Steve Kadel December 2, 2006

PacifiCorp has revised its proposed method of moving salmon past dams on the Klamath River.

The new scenario gives a bigger role to fish ladders and screens, rather than relying on trucking fish around dams.

In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries prescribed fish ladders and screens at four Klamath dams as a condition of relicensing PacifiCorp to operate the Klamath Hydroelectric Project.

The utility countered by suggesting adult fish be trapped and trucked upstream around the dams, with juveniles collected and trucked downstream past the facilities.

However, PacifiCorp came closer to the federal agencies' recommendation in a revised alternative filed Friday with the U.S. departments of Interior and Commerce.

It calls for screens to allow downstream passage at Iron Gate, Copco No. 1 and Copco No. 2 dams. In addition, PacifiCorp would build a modern fish ladder at J.C. Boyle Dam and install screens to allow volitional passage upstream and downstream.

Trucking fish

The utility would still truck fish upstream at Iron Gate, which is too high for fish ladders, according to PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme. The mature fish would be trucked to spawning grounds along the Sprague and Williamson rivers.

If trucking upstream past Iron Gate proved successful, Kvamme said, the same process would be used at Copco No. 2.

“It is generally accepted that high dams are not good places to install fish ladders,” he said.

PacifiCorp Energy president Bill Fehrman said the change reflects the utility's desire to work with federal agencies.

“Our revised alternative proposal is focused on fish passage and ensuring fish can safely and successfully be reintroduced throughout the project area,” he said.

‘Window dressing'

But Karuk Tribe spokesman Craig Tucker said PacifiCorp's new proposal falls far short of what's required by the Fish and Wildlife Service and by NOAA Fisheries.

“It's window dressing,” he said. “They are running out of time and options.”

Tucker added that trucking of fish, still a key part of PacifiCorp's plan, has a large mortality rate.

Meanwhile, a joint study by the California Energy Commission and the Department of the Interior - released Friday - shows removing the Klamath River dams could save PacifiCorp ratepayers up to $300 million over 30 years. The savings includes the price of replacing lost electrical power if dams were taken out.

That study says outfitting dams with fish ladders and other measures for passage would reduce electrical generation by 23 percent, and cost $230 million to $470 million.

Removing the dams and replacing the power would cost between $152 million and $277 million, according to the study.

“It's now official,” said Steve Rothert of American Rivers. “The Klamath hydro project is an economic loser.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will decide the relicensing issue, agrees that decommissioning the dams would benefit PacifiCorp's customers. FERC released a draft Environmental Impact Statement in September concluding relicensing the project would cost ratepayers $28 million more each year than removing dams and finding replacement power.

Klamath River salmon runs have been crippled for several decades because of dams and resulting loss of spawning grounds, bad water quality, low flows and parasites.

Portland-based PacifiCorp, which owns the Klamath River dams, wants another 50-year lease to operate on the river. The dams produce enough electricity for 70,000 homes each year, according to the utility.

Conservation groups say the five-dam Klamath complex produces less than 2 percent of PacifiCorp's electricity needs while blocking salmon from reaching 350 miles of historic river habitat above the dams.

- Steve Kadel

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