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Commentary: What the public needs to know about Klamath River dams


Iron Gate and Copco lakes together hold a reserve of 45 billion gallons of fresh water.

The Klamath River Renewal Corporation wants to destroy these lakes and drain that precious fresh water reserve into the sea, due to the premise that removing these lakes and their dams will restore fish migration past Ward’s Canyon.

However, geologic science informs us that several large natural lava dams had blocked the Klamath River at Ward’s Canyon for millennia, and right up until the time of the construction of the present-day Copco Dam.

Therefore, the premise of fish migration past this area is a dangerous myth.

Nature, not man, ordained that migratory fish did not pass the high lava dams at Ward’s Canyon, the present-day site of Copco 1 Dam.

Historical reports by the Department of Interior and other published observations of the area indicate that for time immemorial several natural lava dams, which are referred to as a "dikes" or "reefs" by geologists in historical reports and modern published geology studies, prevented anadromous fish from migrating upstream in the Klamath River past Ward’s Canyon.

The largest natural rock dam was massive and was made of volcanic andesite. It was over 130 feet tall and about 1,000 feet thick, and is the oldest exposed rock in the area, estimated to be 10 million to 20 million years old. This massive natural dam formed a large lake on the Klamath River that was 5 miles long and 1 mile wide called Clammittee Lake, which is within the footprint of present-day Copco Lake.

Over a period of thousands of years, this high dam (and others) separated the oceangoing fish from the Upper Klamath Basin species, such as Red Band Trout (salmon, aka Salmon Trout in the historical record).

In 1911, J.C. Boyle recorded that the 130-foot-tall andesite dam had been eroded over time, and the waters in Clammittee Lake ultimately settled behind a 31-foot-tall basalt dam that was about two-tenths of a mile upriver from the larger andesite dam, forming a smaller version of Clammittee Lake.

Over millennia, a uniquely complex ecosystem evolved in and around Ward’s Canyon and the waters of Lake Clammittee, containing a myriad of flora and fauna, that today includes threatened and endangered species, where the indigenous Shasta peoples had established permanent villages.

Science indicates the most robust of the salmonid species can only jump 10-12 feet.

It would have been impossible for any ocean-going fish to have migratory access into the waters of the Upper Klamath Basin due to nature’s natural lava dams.

Moreover, a physical barrier separating species from interbreeding is the genesis of speciation, and is called "allopatric speciation," which may help explain the unique genetics of the Redband trout (a salmonoid).

Modern-day Copco Lake, was formerly called Clammittee Lake in the early 1900s and earlier, when the Klamath River was held back into a lake by a natural 31-foot-tall lava dam, the smallest of several such naturally formed volcanic dams that also blocked salmon migration for millennia, and right up until the time that Copco 1 Dam was built.

The 31-foot-tall lava dam blocking the Klamath River, and the lake behind this natural dam, Clammittee Lake, were present when the famous engineer-dam-builder J.C. Boyle arrived at Ward’s Canyon to begin work on the Copco 1 Dam. He was a man whose trade was based-upon extreme accuracy, and he made a drawing of the 31-foot-tall lava dam and Clammittee Lake that was present when he arrived at Ward’s Canyon to begin building Copco 1 Dam.

Removing Copco Dam will merely allow Copco Lake to once again settle down behind the remaining 31-foot-tall lava dam that is currently underwater in Copco Lake.

And quite troubling, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, a shell company formed by PacifiCorp, whose sole mission is to destroy the dams, is also planning on removing the natural rock dam by contouring the river bottom of the wild and scenic Klamath River.

William E. Simpson II is a naturalist and rancher studying natural resource management. He is the author of two published books and more than 200 published articles on subjects related to wildlife, wildfire, public forests and water management.




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