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Damn those dams

Klamath River Dam Removal negotiations uncertain

See 4 comments at the end of article

Jason Robo April 29, 2009, The Lumberjack


Klamath Alex Gauteaux

North of Orick, the Klamath River finally meets the Pacific Ocean.

A battle is being waged along the Klamath River basin regarding the impact of PacifiCorp’s dams on the area’s indigenous cultures. Negotiations are ongoing for the largest dam decommissioning project in human history, and a final agreement is far from concrete.

Electricity provider PacifiCorp’s dams prevent salmon from reaching 350 miles of habitat upstream in the Klamath River to spawn. The Klamath salmon fishery all but collapsed, and commercial fishing is restricted.

PacifiCorp conceded to negotiate dam removal in November 2008 after years of protest by affected parties. The company’s 50-year license expired in 2000 and relicensing requires an array of costly bureaucratic processes.

Negotiators include PacifiCorp, Klamath River basin tribes, farmers, ranchers, conservation and fishing groups, various counties, California, Oregon and Federal government agencies. They hope to reach a final agreement by June 30, 2009.

According to Craig Tucker, a Klamath campaign coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, the state of California would like to connect funding for dam removal to a package that would build more dams in other parts of the state. This would be funded by a water bond which voters would have to approve.

“I don’t see something like that as being a very secure way to fund restoration of the Klamath river, so we have to convince Gov. Schwarzenegger that fixing the Klamath is not destroying other rivers,” he said.

Tucker believes bipartisan support in congress is necessary and possible with assurances for farmers that they can continue to make a living. He considers this “the biggest river restoration effort in the history of the world.”

Another criticism according to Erica Terence, board of directors member for Klamath Riverkeeper, is that the agreement, in principle, has at least 14 or 15 ways for people who sign the agreement to back out and say “deals off,” and that can happen at various points along the way.

If an agreement is reached, Terence said removal of the dams on the Klamath would not occur until 2020.

Klamath Riverkeeper is not part of the negotiations, but has strong opinions about what needs to change in the draft agreement to make it acceptable. Their mission is to “restore water quality and fisheries throughout the Klamath watershed, bringing vitality and abundance back to the river and its people.”

The Klamath watershed is home to diverse indigenous cultures. If the salmon die off, so does their way of life. “These are major issues we are talking about, livelihoods in commercial fishing, lost profits and a lot of people are proud of the salmon culture,” Terence said.

One controversial provision in the current agreement draft protects PacifiCorp from liability.
Marlon Sherman, HSU Native American studies professor, said, “I’m surprised at the willingness of three of the four tribes to waive their right to sue over past injustices.”
Sherman continued that those three tribes are busy being good neighbors and smooth negotiators. “They would be better if they change their position to be strongly assertive of tribal sovereign rights.”

Because tribes cannot sustain themselves from the river, they must rely on foreign food sources, which endangers their financial and physical health. Terrance believes the situation could lead to poverty, diabetes and cultural genocide.

Toxic blue-green algae, Microcystis aeruginosa, is flourishing in the dam’s stagnant reservoirs. The algae excretes the toxin microcystin, found in recreational areas along the reservoir up to 4,000 times the level considered a moderate health risk according to the World Health Organization.

Eye and skin irritation, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, headache, pains in muscles and joints and weakness are some side effects of exposure. Chronic exposure can lead to liver failure or cancer.

For children, swallowing a mouthful of microcystin-rich water equates to hundreds of times over the limits for daily exposure. Elderly people and pets are also more susceptible.
Terence said that despite being “a good decision scientifically, for political reasons the U.S. Secretary of the Interior could deny our ability to take the dams out.”

Terence said currently the Klamath Riverkeeper’s priority is getting support and organizing for the upcoming PacifiCorp annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, Nebra., on May 1.


Lee and Tom Rickard
Craig Tucker has made many statements about dam removal and the consequences. Most of them are false. We live at Copco lake now and have for the last several years and we have been coming to the lake for 33 years. We have never had any trouble with the algae which is prevalent in the lake for about 6 to 8 weeks in late summer. Our children and pets have all played in the lake and we have consumed hundreds of fish over the years with no health problems. It is also of interest to know that the Indian tribes take a huge amount of the salmon from the river every year. It seems that only since the dams have come up for renewal of their license has this issue of the salmon even come up. No mention is made of the hundreds of people in Siskiyou County who will be harmed
by the removal of the dams which provide green inexpensive power and keep the river running well all year instead of becoming a sluggish stream in mid-summer and a potential flood in winter.

Bob Davis
Fri May 1 2009 11:41
The Algae blooms anyplace where the water temperature has raised and there is a slack area. Dam removal will allow the bloom to progress farther downriver , and probably increase after there is no longer the filtering effect of the dams in place. The Klamath has had better runs than the other rivers ,and, would have much more if the ones in charge of fish management would show concern for the fish instead of playing politics to create reasons for dam removal.


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