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Don't remove the dams

Guest Opinion  By Grace Bennett, Yreka City Council Member

Pioneer Press  pioneerp@sisqtel.net March  19, 2008
We have all heard a lot of news about the four dams on the Klamath  River that are being discussed for removal, one in Oregon and three in California. This is a confusing and complex issue, a great many studies have been done both pro and con, but still many questions that have not been addressed.

The dams were constructed to provide electricity, irrigation water for farmers, help with flood control and provide water for wildlife refuges. These dams have served us well for many years and they will for years to come. The dams also provide recreational opportunities and attract tourists to our communities for hunting, fishing, river rafting, bird watching and lots of fun. The dams also act as a filtration system cleaning toxins, debris and silt that would otherwise go down the river.

The people that have built the homes around the lakes and along the river enjoy the many benefits of living on these waterways. If the dams are removed their property value will decrease and the county will lose property tax dollars.

Both cities and counties get their general fund dollars from property, sales and transit occupancy taxes, etc. This is the money that helps to pay for police and fire protection and infrastructure. With the cuts in timber revenues and our dwindling economy, it is vitally important to hang onto every source of income that is available.

These dams provide a source of clean electricity, What and who will replace this electricity? And will our electric rates skyrocket? Pacific-Corp has offered to build fish ladders and transport fish around the dams. Why not try this to see if the fish will be able to adapt to the waters above?

Before Iron Gate was built there were great variations in the water flows in the Klamath River. Signs were placed along the river bank that the river would raise at any time. When the turbines were turned on to produce power at Copco the water flows were increased and down the river came more water to wash away a careless fisherman, livestock, and someone's pump that they had in the river. Since Iron Gate Dam was built there is a more stable, even flow of water. Now there are numerous monitor stations along the river to check water quality, water temperature and water flow levels. These stations also provide various scientists with information about the health of the river on a year 'round basis. As mitigation measure when Iron Gate was built to provide colder water for the fish. There is also a fish hatchery located just below the dam to supply steelhead and salmon for the river. Some people say there is a difference between hatchery fish and wild fish. Is there really a difference? Hatcheries use artificial inseminations much like ranchers who raise beef or hogs. Just what is the difference?

Sport fishermen have done a good job of following the California Department of Fish and Game regulations for fishing in the river and creeks. Now they use barb less hooks and catch and release to help improve fish populations. There are more than 70 creeks and rivers that empty into the Klamath River below Iron Gate. these provide spawning beds for fish.  Another question, are the mouths of these streams clear of debris and inviting for the fish to return to when they are ready to spawn?

The Native American Tribes have said that their main concern is for the health of the Klamath River and its fish. All our peoples have traditions and ceremonies that we all must respect. Parts of the Native American Tribes' traditions are the use of steelhead and salmon in the river. They should be able to harvest fish for their personal use, ceremonies and traditions. I also understand that some tribes have commercial fishing permits but that when the ocean commercial fishermen have their season shortened or closed, the tribes should follow the same rules. What would be the true fish counts if the tribes 82 gill nets were removed from the mouth of the Klamath River?
The last fishing season on the Smith and Chetco rivers have not produced the amount of fish that we have seen in the past years. There are many rivers where the fish counts are down, I would understand to hear just what is happening in our ocean to hinder the fish return.

Thirty years ago the City of Yreka had to ration water and the supply they had didn't taste very good. With the determination and persistence of a visionary city council the Fall Creek Water supply was born. This project guarantees the City of Yreka nine million gallons of water a day, of course, we don't need that much today, but we will for our future development. This system needs constant maintenance, repair and improvements to meet the needs of Yreka's people. The first section of pipeline goes across the top of Iron Gate Lake, what happens when this is exposed? In drought years will the City of Yreka still get their allotted amount of water? These are serious questions that need answers.

The logging industry has changed many of their policies, not logging or building roads near creeks and streams to prevent erosion and sediment from getting into the streams. What about the silt that has built up behind the dams? Won't this cost millions to remove and won't it fill in the gravel bars where the fish spawn?

The Klamath Irrigation Project is a massive system of pumps and reservoirs that provide water to farmers, ranchers and wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin. The water from the Keno and Links Dam supply this water, the water from Gerber and Clear Lake is a different watershed which wouldn't normally get to the Klamath River are also used. This water is all used for irrigation of crops and wildlife and then pumped back into the river to add to the flows.

Have you ever heard or seen a river or creek during a flood, the grinding of the massive rocks, trees floating along, homes swept off their foundations by the powerful force of the water? This has happened in Siskiyou County. The aftermath of such an event has not been as tremendous with the flood protection of the dams.

This is a true balancing act to understand everyone's needs and find a solution but the Klamath Restoration Agreement is not the solution. This agreement was done behind closed doors with no public comments. There was no Environmental Impact Report done. These are procedures already in place that were not followed in the process of developing the agreement. The removal of the dams would just bring a new array of problems to be solved. I feel that with work and understanding we can find a solution.

In closing, we must be ever vigilant. We have tried to negotiate a middle ground solution for our forest industry. We are now losing the back up programs of our timber revenues that were promised. These funds help to improve our schools and maintain our roads.

We must stand up and make our voices heard. We must write letters, phone your congressmen and other government agencies to let your thoughts be known. These actions impact our lives and those of our children and grandchildren for many years to come. Remember once the dams are removed there will be no replacing them without vast expenditures of public funds.

There will be more public hearings about these issues, your job is to be there.

The next public hearing is March 18 at 6 p.m. at the Yreka Community Theater.

These are my personal remarks. They are not those of the City of Yreka, the Yreka City Council or the Board of the Collier Interpretive and Information Center.
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