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Opinion on Klamath River dam impact on downstream communities

by Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong, District 5, 2/17/08

"Last time deals were cut for these groups, the burden of what amounts to a subsidy for this rate break fell upon the shoulders of the California rate payers of Pacific Power." (KBC NOTE: KBC takes issue with this statement. The Klamath Project, paid in full by Project irrigators, provided free, clean, regulated water for affordable power for the power company's customers. We pump our water from a closed basin uphill, out of the Project and into the River for fish and power. When Pacific Power did not want to continue the agreement for at-cost power for Project irrigators who made Klamath hydro dams possible, earning billions of dollars for Pacific Power and saving millions of dollars for customers, Siskiyou joined Yurok and Hoopa Tribes and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen (PCFFA) and enviro groups to end this agreement. It was untruthful and extremely divisive for PacifiCorp to spin that Project power rate was a "subsidy paid by the customers." However, this spin lost the Project the court case and forced desperate Project irrigators into this blackmail settlement by the same tribes and enviro groups; settlement seems the only way out Project irrigators can find to theoretically afford to continue pumping their water uphill out of this basin into the Klamath River. PS. Most of these same groups that petitioned against the Project now claim to be "brothers" and "friends" of Project irrigators against PacifiCorp in the settlement demanding dam removal. HERE for "brothers" at the settlement table. Here's another article for your enjoyment. KBC does not support blackmail or dam removal.)

As I read more and more, I am discovering that the prospects of dam removal could have all sorts of serious repercussions on communities and groups that were excluded from the 26 member Settlement Group table. Things I recently read in a dam removal study raised a potential alarm for my downriver communities. A report entitled Klamath River Dam Removal Investigation by G&G Associates touched briefly on how the Klamath dams could be decommissioned and what some of the effects might be. http://klamathsalmonlibrary.org/documents/G&G2003pd.pdf  There are currently an estimated 20 million cubic yards of sediment trapped behind the dams. Other reports have assumed that, once the dams are breached, only about three million of these cubic yards would immobilize and erode downstream of Iron Gate. Speculation is that the rest of the sediment would sit above the reach of the restored channel and would not move. http://www.klamathwaterquality.com/CCC_KHP_Dams_Out_9_22_06.pdf 

The report outlines some possible consequences of allowing the sediment to erode downstream: (1) short term increase in turbidity; (2) raising the riverbed in low gradient reaches; (3) depositing sediment in pools; (4) scouring the riverbed in steeper areas if high flows occur. From experiences on other dams, the rough study points to possible structural impacts on bridge foundation supports and inundation of low elevation roads and low gradient lands. The retention of sediment behind the dams may have had a straightening affect on the river. Breaching of the dams could actually change the course of the river, adding more meanders and new zones of erosion and deposition. There may also be affects on aquatic life - fish and their invertebrate food sources from changes in turbidity, temperature, organic content, and dissolved oxygen. No estimates have been made as to how this will affect commercial rafting. No comprehensive impact study has ever been done on what could happen.

Whether the dams will stay and be fitted with fish ladders or removed is not the decision of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors. According to Phil Detrich of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it is the decision of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC,) The Public Utilities Commission and PacificCorp. The "Settlement" or Restoration Agreement among the parties includes programs and actions that various groups want. Some are in the form of mitigations for impacts from dam removal that various groups want in exchange for their political backing of dam removal and agreement not to litigate. Some seem additional spoils of opportunistic leveraging during the process. For its efforts, Siskiyou County got the promise to ask the California legislature for $20 million Impact Mitigation and Benefits Program (IMBP) to offset the impact of the annual loss of the $1.1 in taxes currently received for dam facilities and any additional loss in other property tax revenues. (Remember this is the same California legislature that is currently in budget crisis requiring the cutting of more than $15 billions in its budget.) In exchange, Siskiyou County will agree not to sue the states for lost tax revenue, business and economic losses - including property value. It is my understanding that the IMBP will not flow directly into County General Fund coffers to replace lost taxes but will be made available to the impacted communities in some form, such as grants. Grant recipients will have to sign a similar waiver of the right to sue. WHAT A DEAL!

There were only two organizations included in the "Settlement" Group from among the communities situated along the 120 miles of Klamath River within Siskiyou County which will likely be dramatically and directly impacted by dam removal: (1) Siskiyou County government and (2) the Karuk Tribe. These are the same two organizations at the table from among all the people located in the 795 square mile Shasta River Watershed, 814 square mile Scott River Watershed and 751 square mile Salmon River Watershed, also affected by restoration and governance provisions of the agreement. In contrast, there were 24 represented parties from the Klamath Reclamation Project, 10 environmental groups, and 4 tribes represented on the "Settlement" Group.

Another group that was conspicuously not at the "Settlement" Table was the Pacific Power rate payer. The Klamath Project irrigators are negotiating for permanently low power rates. The "Off Project" irrigators in the Upper Klamath are clamoring for the same deal. Last time deals were cut for these groups, the burden of what amounts to a subsidy for this rate break fell upon the shoulders of the California rate payers of Pacific Power. The broader customers of Pacific Power did not share the pain. The California rate payers include Siskiyou County, Del Norte County, a tiny part of Shasta and Modoc County. I was told of a case of a farmer in Butte Valley whose power bill for irrigation climbed $60,000 last year as a result of the most recent hike.
(Compare your electrical bill of two years ago to today.) Many of the players at the table would feel no pain. They are not even served by Pacific Power or are to be insulated from rate hikes.

According to the report and depending on whether there is contamination in the sediment, the cost of dam removal has been estimated as follows: J.C. Boyle from $14-21 million; Copco 1 and 2 from $11 million -3 billion; Iron Gate from $50 million -$2 billion. (On first assessment, there does not appear to be much of a contamination issue.) From an economic impact report done by EcoTrust, the annual replacement costs for the lost power are estimated to be: $27.7 million for natural gas; $31 for cogeneration; $26.7 for wind and $21.6 for coal. How will this affect the rate payer who was absent from the negotiating table? http://www.ecotrust.org/nativeprograms/Siskiyou_Co_Economic_Assessment.pdf

The pattern evidenced in the Settlement Agreement perpetuates the historic lack of recognition and appreciation for the people of the mid-Klamath area and their separate interests. In my opinion, this has by no means been a fair process on a level playing field. Despite all the rosy press releases heralding the agreement as a seminal kumbaya moment for the Klamath River Basin, it is more of the same that we have experienced in the past and exemplifies all of what is rotten about Klamath River politics.

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