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Senator Doug Whitsett speech on Klamath dam removal and KBRA.

KFLS June 23, 2008

A great deal of rhetoric is flowing regarding the removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. The PacifiCorp owned dams produce about 170 megawatts of electricity, about enough environmentally clean power to supply the entire Eugene Springfield area.

More important, the dams provide a critical peaking function that allows PacifiCorp to run much nearer to grid capacity. When a sudden demand occurs, or a generating facility suddenly goes off line, these four hydropower dams can be almost instantaneously ramped up to stabilize the grid to keep the lights on. This hydropower peaking function is nearly impossible to replace at any cost.

Never the less, we are being told that behind closed door negotiations are being held to facilitate the dam removal.

The fact of the matter is that the draft Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) is entirely contingent on that dam removal. That contingency, stated on the first page of the draft agreement, makes it clear that the parties will support the water for land trade agreement only after a concurrent agreement to remove the dams is reached.

The alleged purpose of dam removal is to restore the river ecosystem for Chinook and Coho salmon. The expectation is that increased spawning activity in the mid and upper basin tributaries will help to restore the Klamath River salmon runs. This ecosystem restoration is scheduled to include introduction of the salmon species into Upper Klamath Lake and its tributaries.

This plan to introduce salmon into the Upper Basin has a critical flaw that will be potentially devastating to not only agricultural and timber interests, but to all inhabitants of the Upper Basin. Most of the proposed salmon habitat includes water that is much too warm and eutrophic for these species to survive and reproduce. The very high natural background levels of phosphorous, the nearly flat river valleys, and the extremely shallow nature of Upper Klamath Lake have resulted in warm euthrophic waters for millennia, and will continue to do so for millennia to come. Nothing that man can do will alter that reality.

Moreover, we know of no one alive who remembers salmon being present in the Upper Klamath Basin. We have been unable to find any written record of salmon being present other than unconfirmed anecdotal stories and archival photographs of an unusual catch.

The Klamath Tribes consider two species of sucker fish as religious symbols, because historically, those species provided a major part of their sustenance. Native Americans were pretty intelligent, industrious, and self supporting people. Why on earth would they have lived on suckers if salmon were abundant and available for harvest?

About forty years ago I participated in the Mullet snagging fishery one season. I soon discovered that the fresh sucker fish were too strong for me to eat, and that I could not even smoke a sucker long enough to make it really edible. Had there been a choice, had salmon ever been present in viable numbers, I am certain that the Tribes would have chosen salmon over suckers.

I believe the basic idea of exchanging a vibrant and economically thriving cattle industry for what, at best, could only be a marginal salmon fishery, is in no ones best interest. Moreover, when these salmon species are introduced into the Upper Basin, a series of events is certain to follow.

Federal fish biologists may be expected to designate them as either an ecologically distinct unit, or an evolutionary distinct unit. Soon after that designation, the biologists will educate the people that these distinct populations are struggling. This in turn will justify the biologists' petition to list the newly described units as threatened or endangered species. We may then expect the entire Upper Basin, from ridge top to the Klamath River canyon, to be designated as critical habitat for these endangered salmon units. The chances of ever getting these species off the threatened or endangered species list will be virtually impossible because the habitat is simply inappropriate to support these fish.

We may then expect that the management of the critical habit newly coined for these endangered units will be assumed by NOAA fisheries biologists. That habitat will encompass all of the private and government land in the Upper Basin, as well as all of our water resources.

The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement specifically excludes Endangered Species Act laws and regulations. Rules created to protect these newly established Upper Basin resident salmon will supersede each and every agreed upon concession in the KBRA. I predict the federal fish biologists will take control of the KBRA Technical Advisory Committee, and then dictate how future water allocations are managed.

These are the same agency biologists who recently determined that the Klamath Project irrigators are causing, are responsible for, the loss of weight being experienced by the Puget Sound's endangered pod of resident killer whales. This incredible finding clearly demonstrates the biologists' intentions for agriculture and forestry in the Upper Klamath Basin. I do not believe that being under the rule of these ideologically bankrupt federal biologists will be good for our communities.
 

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