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Water settlement opinions vary on dam removal

Some say negative economic impact outweighs benefit to fish

by Ty Beaver, Herald and News 1/29/08

Some Siskiyou County residents believe dams on the Klamath River shouldn't be removed, saying the negative economic impact outweighs the minimal benefit to fish.

Betty Hall of the Shasta Indian Nation said the dams help provide year round flows for the river, and historical record doesn't indicate many salmon made it that far north of the PacifiCorp owned hydroelectric dams.

"It was just a handful," she said.

The proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which allocates water among tribes, irrigators, fisheries and environmentalists, led to some hard questions in the Northern California county. If implemented and dams are removed, the county would lose nearly $1 million in annual property tax revenue each year.


The agreement hinges on PacifiCorp removing four of its hydroelectric dams. Three of them, Copco 1 and 2, and Iron Gate, are in Siskiyou County and form a major part of the region's economy. The other dam, J.C. Boyle, is in Klamath County.

The Portland-based power company hasn't made any decisions yet.

Irrigators in the Siskiyou County's northeastern corner tend to support the restoration agreement, as do members of the Karuk Tribe, but recreational fishermen and property owners regard it with skepticism.

The Siskiyou Board of Supervisors is conducting public meetings on the agreement before it decides whether to sign it. No one knows what Siskiyou County would be like without the dams.

"We don't want anybody forced into something that won't be good for them in the long-term or the short term," said Supervisor Jim Cook.

Three county governments, Klamath, Siskiyou and Humboldt, participated in settlement talks. The Klamath River runs through all three counties.

PacifiCorp pays about $1 million a year in property taxes for all its assets in Siskiyou County, and its three dams make up the lion's portion.

Dams produce enough power for twice that needed in Siskiyou County

The power company also employs dozens of people, many who strictly deal with dam maintenance or areas associated with the dams, said Toby Freeman, regional community manager with PacifiCorp.

The four hydroelectric dams produce enough power for twice the population of Siskiyou County. Many people own property along the dams'reservoirs, making it valuable as lakefront property. Rafters and recreational fishermen prize the region for its outdoor activities.

All that is at risk if the dams are removed, Cook said, and that weighs heavily on his mind.

I'm not sure what's going to happen. I couldn't even guess, he said.

Some groups, notably the Karuk Tribe and irrigators from Tulelake and Dorris, support the agreement and its requirement of dam removal.

Others don't.

Other views

People for the USA! Grange, a grassroots organization concerned with property rights, filed a petition with the Siskiyou supervisors opposing the agreement, at least until a thorough study and analysis of dam removal was conducted and studied.

Dam removal isn't looming, nor would it be without compensation.

Spokesmen with PacifiCorp said the company has yet to rule dam removal a more economical solution than fish ladders, estimated to cost about $300 million.

If the dams are removed, California Fish and Game Department would request the California Legislature provide $20 million in compensation, which could be either invested or used for economic development.

However, the money couldn't be used to compensate lakefront property owners, some of the most financially impacted in the county, Cook said. There's also no guarantee the county would receive the funds.

"If they asked for $20 million this year, people would laugh at them," he said.

The county will continue to conduct public hearings. Cook said he can't ignore that some residents in his county could benefit from it.

But others, such as Hall, don't see a need to undo something that has become such a critical part of the area. The dams provide power, water and other benefits with a questionable impact on fish.

"What's done is already done," she said.

Side Bar

Impact on Klamath County

Klamath County would receive up to $3.7 million if the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is approved to compensate for lost income and property tax revenue tax and retirement of water rights.

The money would come from an estimated $400 million in new funding needed to implement the agreement. Total cost is estimated at $1 billion over 10 years.

The county receives about $200,000 a year in property taxes from PacifiCorp for the Keno and J.C. Boyle dams.

The funds Klamath County would receive if the dams came out would be used to compensate for the lost property tax revenue.

About $500,000 of it would be used for economic development, centered around the reintroduction of salmon in the area. The remaining $3.2 million was calculated based on projected lost taxes from the retirement of water rights on irrigated lands.
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