Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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KLAMATH RIVER DAM REMOVAL
Boaters, property owners see holes in taking out hydroelectric dams
SCHWARTZ, Herald and News 5/12/13
H&N photos by Steven Silton - Tim Hemstreet, left, and Bob Gravely discuss the history of the Copco 1 dam in addition to why removing the dams makes financial sense.
Depending how you make your living and how you recreate, the Klamath River’s four hydroelectric dams, and the possibility of their removal, represent very different things. For Native American tribes who fished the free-flowing river for countless generations, dams are often seen as painful and misguided obstructions to healthy fish populations and water ecosystems. For farmers and ranchers raised on inexpensive, plentiful power provided by energy utilities, the dams may represent seeds of growth and prosperity for the Klamath Basin.
Their opposing viewpoints have become cemented by seven total dams, 18 canals, 45 pumping facilities and more than 500 miles of ditches to supply irrigation water to more than 224,000 acres of agricultural lands.
The main-stem Klamath River’s hydroelectric dams also support plentiful recreation via whitewater boating, flat-water reservoirs and sport fishing.
In fact, the Upper K, as boaters often refer to the river’s hydroelectric reaches, provides reliable river flows even in the heat of summer when many western rivers are mere trickles.
Copco No. 1 is the oldest of the four dams that could be removed in the relatively near future.
Driving dusty roads paralleling tumultuous whitewater stretches and meandering bends, the river comes and goes from the car window in the sporadic manner of radio reception. On a recent tour of the dams, PacifiCorp’s senior Project Manager for Hydrologic Resources Tim Hemstreet described the hydroelectric project’s history with a double perspective.
Hemstreet said he takes offense when people accuse PacifiCorp of operating aging, environmentally damaging dams without significant power generation.
These fish ladders would have to be installed as part of an effort to upgrade four dams on the Klamath River, the other option is to remove the dams all together.
One advantage of dams over other energy sources is their flexibility to produce less power at night and more during the day, when demand is high.
Standing at the J.C. Boyle Dam, Hemstreet said that facility alone produces enough power for 32,000 homes per year.
“We have dams all over the place and we balance (energy-demand and environmental) issues in all different ways,” Hemstreet added.
The company has recently removed the Condit Dam from the White Salmon River while renewing licenses on Wilson and Umpqua river dams.
Hemstreet said the larger company’s energy portfolio is about 60 percent coal and perhaps 15 percent hydroelectric.
Yet he asserted that the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement stipulating removal of four Klamath River dams is the best deal for PacifiCorp customers. The KHSA includes cost caps, liability protection and interim facility operation.
Full dam removal, the recommendation made by the Department of Interior’s final environmental impact statement, would bring changes to river recreation and property values.
Below the J.C. Boyle powerhouse, the river drops steeply into a popular rafting put-in, allowing access to some of the best whitewater.
Hemstreet said consistent flows released by the dams provide consistent rafting and kayaking — flows that will certainly change with the dam’s removal.
Excerpts of public comments on reservoir property affected by dam removal
“I am opposed to the removal of the dams on Copco Lake. I am a Copco Lake property owner and an avid outdoorsman. The removal of the dam threatens to further destroy my property value and the views I have. There is no plan in place to compensate me for the damage to my property and there are no plans to deal with the mess created in the lake bed upon dam removal. The removal of the dams means the loss of clean energy, the loss of recreational property, and a devastating impact on the ecology and families who live there. The dam removal means we go to dirty energy and both the consumer and taxpayer are hit with the costs.”
— Rich Bodnar
“I think the issue of property values around Copco Lake and Iron Gate Lake — or reservoir — are overestimated, and I think we underestimate the benefits of a healthy fishery. I think property values, for a steelhead fisherman or salmon fisherman living along those banks, those folks would value that property very, very much, more so than simple view property, especially on the edges of a lake with toxic algae blooms.”
— Thomas Dunklin
“My husband and I live on Copco Lake, and as private property owners there we and our neighbors have been accused of being selfish because we want to continue living the American dream on a beautiful lake. We can drop a line off our dock and catch catfish, perch, bass and crappie. If we catch a ride on a passing boat, we can troll for trout. Most of our neighbors do these same things when they are not participating in an official fishing derby or a fish fry put on by the Sportsman’s Club.”
— Linda Ebert
Dams support whitewater boating
Mandated water releases for hydroelectricity and threatened coho salmon support world-renowned whitewater boating on the Klamath River.
Below the J.C. Boyle powerhouse is the Spring Island boat launch area, popular with rafters and kayakers. The most well-known rapids of the Upper Klamath River are found between the powerhouse and Copco Lake, the reservoir created above Copco No. 1 dam.
On their way, boaters bounce through more than 18 named rapids as the river crosses the border between Oregon and Northern California.
Caldera and Hell’s Corner are two of the most challenging and dangerous rapids, and Internet videos of these rapids abound (one is available at http://tinyurl . com/cr9daxo).
The Bureau of Land Management recommends the weather and flows in a generous window between May and October.
Only one company, ROE Outfitters, is based out of Klamath Falls, while many others travel to the Klamath River from Ashland or Northern California.
Although they do not have the most lucrative profession on earth, guides love working on the river each year, bringing a taste of adventure to tourists and travelers from across the globe.
Bart Baldwin, owner of Noah’s River Adventures, said the J.C. Boyle section is unique.
“They are long, technical rapids with volcanic basalt rocks and warm water with a big splash-and-giggle factor. There’s nothing nearby comparable to that stretch. It’s a very unique piece of water.”
Further details about boating on the 263-mile Klamath River can be read at klamath-river.com .
Reservoir property impacts
John Wardlaw’s family built their Copco Lake house in 1970 and visited every year of his childhood except one — when his grandfather was dying of cancer.Five miles long and no more than a mile wide, the reservoir behind Copco No. 1 dam has an estimated 150 homes, including ranches, vacation homes and full-time residences.
Asked about the possibility of dam removal, Wardlaw said he has yet to find residents of Copco Lake or Siskiyou County who want to see them go.“The main concern I have is what threats of the dams coming out is doing to the area,” Wardlaw said. “Nobody wants to buy a lake house if they think the lake is gonna come down. No one can sell.”
The Interior Department’s recent report on dam removal predicts negative impacts to property values, with no clear plans to soften the blow.Residents say the government has offered to buy some properties, although many public comments say values were calculated as empty lots, even when they actually contain homes.
Wardlaw speaks wistfully about a more robust Copco community that boomed in the 1960s and 1970s.“Copco Lake Clubhouse was thriving — we used to have lots of barbecues and parties, and the Copco Store used to be thriving as well.”
Wardlaw said kids would attend Fall Creek School and later Yreka High School. Over the years, the families grew up and their kids moved away to larger communities.Amid granular cultural shifts, the love for Copco Lake held by residents and vacationers has remained steady, perhaps even accentuated by the possibility of dam removal.
PacifiCorp representatives estimate Copco Lake would drop by about 30 feet, a worrisome impact for many.Wardlaw said silt and mud could be left from dam removal for years. And though he isn’t planning to sell his property — which would become riverfront — others would suffer worse economic effects, and all would suffer noisy demolition activity.
“Had they known what they know now about rivers with salmon,” Wardlaw said, “they never would have built any dams on them. But from my point of view as a Republican and an environmentalist, I don’t see a benefit of removing the dams.”Many Copco residents and vacationers speak similarly in the public comments section of the dam removal study.
Said Loy Beardsmore, “My husband’s father built a home up by Copco Lake. I have been coming with my husband and my family up to Copco for about the last 30 years … we hope to see our grandchildren come up here, as my father-in-law saw his grandchildren.”
The effect on river boatingA final environmental impact statement by the Department of Interior recommends removing the very hydroelectric dams that frame the Klamath River’s mostrenowned rafting.
In recognition of dam removal’s socioeconomic and recreation impacts, DOI states that “peaking flows from operation of the hydroelectric project currently allow for commercial whitewater boating in mid- to latesummer.”The final EIS predicts the number of days for whitewater boating and recreational fishing would be diminished in the long-term, and nothing would be done to mitigate this change.
Additionally, the impacts on guiding services and guides from diminished whitewater recreation opportunities are seen to be long-term and without any proposed mitigation.Owner of Noah’s River Adventures Bart Baldwin said he isn’t pro- or anti-dam but a proponent of water staying in the river.
“If you take out the dams and there’s no water in the river, it won’t be healthy. In the stretch of river below (J.C. Boyle Dam) there will be the same water but without the control of peaking,” Baldwin said.Currently, a confluence of peak power demand in the daytime, and peak demand for rafting, equal a boating stretch Baldwin said he would take over any river he’s run.
“What we’re doing right now works for us, and I’m biased,” said Baldwin, who added that the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement has no one representing recreation other than fishing. “Not biking, boating, rafting or kayaking. We’re left on the outside and we’re just waiting to be dictated our future.”Baldwin said the Bureau of Land Management has a rosy impression of how boating will be affected by dam removal, though the environmental impact statement actually says the best boating sections will disappear.
River sections located below Iron Gate dam do provide access points for further river recreation. And yet, their fate may be uncertain.A circuit court in California currently mandates minimum water releases, Baldwin said, allowing for some “neat runs when they have water.”
But he added that the KBRA and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement would do away with those mandated flows and severely dry up the boating opportunities .Were the dams to come out, Baldwin predicts the best rafting would be relegated to short spring runs.
In his assessment, the problem is less the dams than over-allocated water resources in the Klamath Project and its excessive agricultural usage.
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Page Updated: Thursday May 16, 2013 01:45 AM Pacific
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