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Klamath Tribes sue for salmon loss

The lawsuit seeks $1 billion from PacifiCorp, citing the loss of historic treaty rights to fish the headwaters
Saturday, May 15, 2004

The Klamath Tribes filed a lawsuit against PacifiCorp, citing the loss of salmon in the upper Klamath Basin created by the Portland-based utility's hydroelectric operations.

The complaint seeks $1 billion in compensation for the tribes' historic treaty rights to fish for salmon in the headwaters of the Klamath River.

Court documents filed in U.S. District Court this week assert: "The Tribes' traditional reliance upon salmon for subsistence and trade is undisputed; and the existence of dams blocking salmon passage beginning in 1911 is undisputed."

On Friday, Klamath Tribes Chairman Allen Foreman declined to comment further about the complaint, which also lists seven individuals and the Klamath Claims Committee as plaintiffs.

Jon Coney, a PacifiCorp spokesman, also declined to comment. PacifiCorp's lawyers are reviewing the complaint, he said.

PacifiCorp operates a 151-megawatt hydroelectric project on the Klamath River that includes five dams and generates enough power to serve about 77,500 homes.

The utility's license to operate the Klamath projects expires in 2006, and PacifiCorp has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for renewal.

Coney said the Klamath River project is important to PacifiCorp because it allows flexibility to adjust water flows to meet peak summer energy demands.

Conservationists and others argue the utility should not receive new licenses for an outdated hydropower operation built between 1908 and 1962.

Migrating salmon stopped coming up the Klamath River following completion of the Iron Gate Dam, located in Siskiyou County, Calif. The dam is not equipped to allow for fish passage.

A 2003 report by the National Research Council recommended evaluating the removal of the Iron Gate Dam to aid salmon recovery.

Glenn Spain, an Oregon-based representative of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said the National Research Council Report made it clear "that Iron Gate Dam be considered for decommissioning because of the water quality problems it creates."

"At this point," Spain said, "it's doubtful whether PacifiCorp could ever meet modern water quality standards with the dam at that location."

Joe Rojas-Burke contributed to this report. Michelle Cole: 503-294-5143; michellecole@news.oregonian.com



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