approach does not work when it comes to dam removal.
coverage has surrounded the historic effort by the Bush
administration, California and Oregon, and farming,
tribal and environmental interests to reach settlement
in the long-simmering Klamath River conflict. Some
environmental activists and urban newspapers are already
using the Klamath pact as justification to ramp up dam
removal efforts on other Western streams.
I hope the dam critics
will heed this note of caution, from someone who lives
in the Klamath Basin and has been very close to the
water challenges faced by our community since 2001, when
our century-old irrigation project had water deliveries
curtailed for the sake of fish.
The issues surrounding
the dams, salmon and water are not remotely similar to
those faced on the Snake River. For example, the dams on
the Klamath River are part of a corporate hydroelectric
project designed to maximize power generation and timing
The reservoirs do not
store water for farmers. Economic studies suggest that
removing the Klamath dams is cheaper than building fish
ladders, improving water quality, and implementing other
improvements to help salmon.
On the other hand, the
dams and reservoirs on the lower Snake River are
multipurpose federal facilities that provide enough
power to light the city of Seattle. The dams are also
critical cogs in the regional navigation system.
Enormous environmental tradeoffs would be required if
the lower Snake dams are removed. How do you replace the
hydropower production capacity? How many boxcars and
trucks would be needed to match the system's current
capacity to move goods by barge?
The unique nature of
the Klamath dams and interests of the parties that
depend on the river contributed to the very unique
nature of the proposed settlement. Although a bitter
pill for many in the farming community to swallow, dam
removal is the political glue that holds this particular
In exchange for not
opposing dam removal on the Klamath River, irrigators
get assurances and support from once-adversarial parties
for affordable and reliable water and power in the
And it's still not a
done deal. Questions remain about how effective dam
removal really will be to the future health of the
Klamath salmon fishery. The Klamath agreement sets out a
requirement for studying how removing the dams would
affect water quality and fish habitat.
A key concern is to
ensure that the environmental impact of the release of
sediment built up behind the dams would not be worse
than leaving the dams in place.
organizations and some urban newspapers give the
impression that tearing out dams is an automatic silver
bullet remedy to salmon recovery efforts. In fact,
tremendous uncertainty surrounds dam removal, and
individual projects must be closely and realistically
examined on a case-by-case basis.
If our policy leaders
really want to recover salmon - and not just satisfy a
dam removal agenda - they should work to focus even more
efforts on understanding all of the stressors to the
fish, including harvest impacts and the natural
variability of runs caused by ocean and other
Just because a truly
historic and important settlement has been developed on
the Klamath River - one that hinges on dam removal -
does not mean the same fit can be applied to other
Dan Keppen is
executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, a
grassroots organization representing irrigators in 17
Western states, including Idaho. He served as executive
director of the Klamath Water Users Association from
2001-2005. This editorial represents his personal views,
and not those of either of these organizations.