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Report targets dams

Published Oct 26, 2003


The National Research Council's final report last week put a spotlight on dams throughout the Klamath Basin.

The 12-member committee of scientists recommended:

n Removal of Chiloquin Dam on the Sprague River.

n Removal or improvements for better fish passage at small dams and diversions throughout the Klamath River tributaries.

n Evaluations of Iron Gate Dam on the river itself and of Dwinnell Dam on the Shasta River.

It also recommended a three-year shutdown of the Iron Gate Hatchery, which produces mostly chinook salmon, to see how native cohos would benefit if they didn't have to compete against so many chinook.

William Lewis chaired the committee and is professor of lake science at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He said Chiloquin Dam blocks about 90 percent of the original spawning areas used by suckers in Upper Klamath Lake.

"While some of this historical spawning area may be degraded, removal of the dam will give the fish easy access to it for the first time in decades, and therefore could increase the number of larvae that ultimately reach Upper Klamath Lake," he said in an e-mail.

Downstream, he said, coho could benefit from the removal of Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River just past the Oregon-California Border and of Dwinnell Dam on the Shasta River.

He said Iron Gate Dam blocks coho habitat to some significant tributaries that now empty into Iron Gate Reservoir, and Dwinnell Dam blocks about 20 percent of the coho habitat on the Shasta.

"We cannot forecast the exact effect of removal of dams on the coho," he said. "We do think the overall effect could be substantial, however."

So far, news of the Council's recommendation is still trickling down to those who could be affected.

Kim Rushton, manager of the Iron Gate fish hatchery, said he heard and read about the recommendation of closing the hatchery, but he hadn't seen the Council's report yet.

"We basically just heard of this," he said.

He said the hatchery produces six million chinook salmon a year, about five million of which are released as fry in the spring, the rest released as yearlings in the fall.

The hatchery also puts out 75,000 coho yearlings and 200,000 steelhead trout yearlings, both in the spring.

"The reason we are here is to mitigate for the lost spawning area above Iron Gate Dam," he said.

He said the hatchery workers try to time the release of the hatchery fishes so they will have the least impact on wild runs.

To meet the production goals, the hatchery needs about 8,000 chinook to come back each year, Rushton said.

Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations said that although the group has also called for a study of the viability of Iron Gate Dam, it doesn't want the hatchery to be shut down.

"I don't think it is practical to close the hatchery for three years," he said, "but there does need to be some study of how the hatchery fish affect the native runs."

He said 40 to 50 percent of the chinook on the Klamath River come from the hatchery. These fish are an important part of the catch for commercial fishermen up and down the Northern California and Oregon coasts.

The group has asked PacifiCorp, which owns the dam, to consider removing the dam because it creates a warm-water reservoir and blocks native habitat.

PacifiCorp is currently working on an application for the relicensing of its Klamath Hydroelectrical Project with the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission. The 151-megawatt project is made up of seven power dams and one flow-control dam. The license will expire in 2006, but the application for a new one is due March 1.

Jon Coney, spokesman for PacifiCorp, said the company has done an early evaluation of the report and plans to go over it with a "fine tooth comb."

He said the company doesn't plan on removing, or "decommissioning," any dams, and the report doesn't change that.

"Our relicensing has been pretty straightforward - that decommissioning is not something we are looking at," he said.

On the Sprague River, the Chiloquin Dam has been under discussion by a number of groups, including the Klamath Water Users Association, the Klamath Tribes and the Modoc Point Irrigation District. In the last year, representatives of those groups, along with representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, state and federal agencies and others, have met as part of a working group.

In July, the working group unanimously recommended the removal of the dam, with some considerations.

One of the concerns was what would happen to Modoc Point district irrigators who use water from the dam to water about 5,000 acres.

Tom Burns uses district water to fill his bass aquaculture ponds. He said the group's recommendation calls on the U.S. Congress to figure out a way compensate the district's water users for switching to a downstream pump that would cost about $50,000 a year to run.

The district water users also don't want to lose the spot in line in the ongoing water rights adjudication for the Basin.

"We have to be assured that our water rights for quantity and time are the same they are now," Burns said.

He said the other groups have put in other requests in the recommendation, such as the Tribes, which asked for a commitment to overall restoration of the Sprague River system.

Another concern for the group was how removing the dam would affect spawning habitat downstream because of the rush of sediment now blocked behind the dam.

Chuck Korson, fish passage manager for the Klamath Reclamation Project, said the Bureau found that the release of the sediment wouldn't harm the habitat.

"Within six months to a year it would be flushed out," he said.

For best results, he said, the dam would be removed in the fall. The low water would help in doing the work in the river and the following winter floods would help disperse the sediments, Korson said.

Now that the Bureau's study is in, the working group's recommendation is in and the Council has called for the removal of the dam in its report, the project needs only a legislative thumbs-up.

"It's a matter of going through congressional process," he said.

U.S. Rep Greg Walden set up the legislation that led to the working group and has said he will work to get an appropriation for removing the dam.

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