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Settling on the Klamath's dams
The owner of six dams on the Klamath River is hoping to have settlement talks under way as early as the fall, and has repeated its stance that no options -- including dam removal -- are off the table.
Portland, Ore.,-based PacifiCorp's application for the relicensing of the dams has been accepted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now the power company wants to open settlement negotiations with tribes, environmentalists and others, whose final terms would be adopted by federal regulators.
Such a process has been used throughout the West to allow for more flexibility than is provided for in the onerous relicensing process. But how many groups -- and who will represent them -- will be allowed at the table is up in the air.
"I think we've been clear that we haven't drawn a line in the sand," said PacifiCorp spokesman Jon Coney. "We haven't prejudged the outcome."
Klamath Indian tribes, fishermen and environmentalists are just coming off a trip to Scotland, where they met with PacifiCorp parent company ScottishPower executives and attended its shareholders meeting. ScottishPower pledged that its subsidiary would talk with the groups. Last month, PacifiCorp CEO Judi Johanson met with several Klamath tribes.
Yurok Tribe Executive Director Troy Fletcher said the Yuroks have told PacifiCorp they want to negotiate with the understanding that their goal is to see the dams removed. But the tribe also wants to see the full effects of such an effort studied, something the company has left out of its federal license application.
"We believe PacifiCorp is poised to do the right thing and the Yurok Tribe is going to do everything we can to help restore fish to the Upper Klamath Basin," Fletcher said.
Salmon once ran far up the Klamath, maybe well into the Sprague and Williamson rivers that feed Upper Klamath Lake. As the dams went up, salmon were cut off from their historic spawning grounds.
A lawsuit from tribes on the upper Klamath asks for $1 billion in compensation for treaty rights to fish for salmon in the upper watershed. Coney said that lawsuit could complicate settlement talks.
The hydroelectric project today produces about 151 megawatts, enough to serve 77,500 homes. Coney said it's a source of cheap power that doesn't pollute -- an assertion questioned by many who hold that its reservoirs degrade water quality.
Coney could not say what removal of the project might mean to its ratepayers. The California Energy Commission has stated that new, larger power projects coming on line regionally would more than supplant the power PacifiCorp generates.
And ScottishPower bills itself as an environmentally minded company, and could face a public relations backlash if PacifiCorp isn't willing to consider eliminating some of its impacts.
In fact, the tribes and groups that traveled to Scotland were the source of a minor media frenzy in a country whose residents were largely unfamiliar with ScottishPower's interests in the Klamath River.
One of the key elements likely to come up during settlement talks is the cost of dam removal. Some preliminary estimates have been thrown around, but the price is likely to be in the tens of millions of dollars, and PacifiCorp would probably expect federal assistance in bearing the burden.
"I think it's inevitable that federal funding of dam removal is going to come up," Coney said.
How many dams might come out would obviously affect the cost, and different groups might advocate different approaches. Craig Tucker of the Sacramento-based Friends of the River said Keno Dam could be left, and the other dams are fair game, but Iron Gate Dam, in his opinion, has to go.
The National Research Council and the California Energy Commission have advocated that removal of at least Iron Gate Dam be considered.
The differing opinions mean as many groups that are committed to the process should be allowed at the table, Tucker said. But instead of following other successful models, PacifiCorp seems intent on dictating the shape of the negotiations, he said, something that might only lead to lawsuits once the settlement terms are clear.
"The last thing the Klamath needs is another lawsuit," Tucker said.
Addendum by Barb Hall, Klamath Bucket Brigade
The Lower Klamath River has suffered two enormous floods in recent times, specifically in 1955 and 1964, when it crested 18 feet over flood stage.
The following is from:
"On December 22nd, 1964 the mighty Klamath topped out at 52 feet, covering Terwer Valley in a maelstrom of churning logs, brush, lumber and debris."
"The most devastating flood of the Klamath and the one that has had the greatest effect on the town of Klamath was the 1964 flood. The 1964 flood put and end to the old Klamath forever as it swept away all of the downtown and a fairly new school, destroyed the 101 bridge and carried many, many homes out to sea. This flood brought the highest river level ever recorded of 55.2 feet. The river was flowing over 550,000 cubic feet per minute. The 1964 flood of the Klamath was brought about by a combination of heavy snow pack back in the mountains combined with warm weather and lots of warm pineapple connection rain."
The middle Klamath suffered a flood in 1997.
The following information about the 1997 flood is from:
Northern California was drenched by a series of rainstorms Dec. 29, 1996, through Jan. 4, 1997. A "pineapple express" brought a series of storms from the central Pacific that caused heavy, prolonged, and unusually warm precipitation across the northern half of the state. The unusually warm rain caused widespread snowmelt from an above normal snowpack. These conditions caused wide-spread minor to record-breaking floods from central California to Oregon. Several gaging stations used to measure the water level in streams and rivers recorded the largest peaks in the history of their operation.
Prior to the December storms rainfall was near normal in northern California. The most intense of the series of storms occurred the week of Jan. 1, 1997. Precipitation up to 24 inches was recorded for the week. Significant flooding occurred and disaster areas were declared in 43 counties.
Flooding was unusually rapid due to saturated soils and snowmelt. Large rivers, rather than small streams, caused the most damage. The foothills of the Sierra Nevada and areas downstream of the foothills were particularly hard hit, especially in the communities of Wilton, Olivehurst, and Modesto. Flooding on large rivers was partially controlled by large flood-control reservoirs that had only moderate storage capacity available due to prior runoff. Levee failure on the Cosumnes, Mokelumne, Tuolumne, and Feather rivers caused wide-spread damage. Small streams and rivers in the coastal areas also caused wide-spread flooding. The highest peak flows in the region occurred December 30 through January 2 .
For more flood info back to the 1860s check out this site:
Take out the dams on the Klamath River and any winter/spring flooding in the middle and lower river will be blamed on the farmers and ranchers in the Upper Klamath Basin.
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