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Fish passage for license renewal
April 6, 2006
 
 
 
 

YREKA - The U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife is working with a number of governmental and private agencies to determine what will be required of Pacificorp to relicense their power plants on the Klamath River. Pacificorp operates power generation facilities at Irongate, Copco I, Copco II and John Boyle, all dams constructed on the Klamath River between Interstate-5 and Klamath Falls, Ore.

Pacificorp's 50-year contract issued by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) expired in March of this year. Pacificorp has spent the last five years negotiating with FERC and other governmental agencies concerned with water quality and natural resources to come up with a proposal that meets everyone's needs.

One of the proposals Fish & Wildlife is considering is requiring the construction of fish ladders to allow salmon access past Irongate Dam to the headwaters of the Klamath River at Klamath Lake, some 60 miles away. Salmon have not traveled past Copco Dam since its construction in 1918. Phil Detrich of Fish & Wildlife says historical photos show that salmon were in Klamath Lake at one time before Copco Dam blocked their passage.

Fish & Wildlife believes that some of the salmon that come to Irongate Hatchery in the fall will keep pushing up river towards Klamath Lake. Detrich says the presence of red band trout in Klamath Lake confirms his belief that water quality during the 30-day fall salmon run is sufficient for salmon "to use these two lakes (Iron Gate and Copco) for migratory pathways."

"There is a tremendous amount of controversy with natural resource issues relating to the Klamath River right now," said Dave Kvamme, a spokesperson for Pacificorp in Portland, Ore.

"In our license application, we did not call for fish passage above our dams because water quality in the river and above our projects is very poor," Kvamme said. Salmon need cold, clear water and the water in the lakes created above Copco and Irongate dams is not cold or clear and contains large amounts of algae that is not beneficial for salmon, according to Kvamme.

"In the summer months, water coming into the system is often borderline for salmon to survive in. The watershed is not in good shape and we do not think it makes much sense to build fish ladders and screens at a high cost to pass fish into an eco system like this," Kvamme said. 

"This whole thing is still preliminary," Detrich said. "This is a really big step in a long process. There will be an appeals hearing process over the next six months. If any party appeals, we will be examining the checks and alternatives and at the end of the process, FERC will come out with an order with the new terms and conditions for the license," Detrich said.

Kvamme agrees that the re-licensing process is going to be a long one and not expected to be completed until sometime well within 2007, if all goes well.

 Estimates for the construction of fish ladders to provide passage for salmon for the 60 miles between Irongate and Klamath Lake has been estimated at more than $200,000 million. The task to bypass Irongate Dam alone would be monumental requiring the construction of a two-mile long fish ladder necessary to scale the 173-foot height of the dam.

 "It is not that we have a problem investing in natural resources," Kvamme said. "We have done that on several other drainages," Kvamme added, but Pacificorp does not favor constructing fish passage into a body of water that they contend will not sustain significant numbers of salmon.

 "What we are looking for is an outcome that protects our customers and shareholders. After all, this is a project that generates a significant amount of electricity at a low cost," Kvamme said. Electricity generated at all four facilities produces enough electricity to power 70,000 residential customers.

 Some native American interests have proposed removing the dams altogether. Pacificorp has maintained that it would cost more to remove the dams than to install fish passage and would result in a loss of long term revenue which is not being favored by Pacificorp at this time.  Kvamme says the cost of the construction of fish passages or whatever demands FERC makes as a condition of Pacificorp's license renewal would typically be passed on to consumers in the way of rate increases.

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