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It is feasible to build fish ladders around Copco No. 1, the first Klamath River hydroelectric dam, a judge ruled last week. PacifiCorp now operates the concrete arch dam that rises 126 feet above Ward Canyon about 2 miles south of the Oregon border.
Judge sides with government on most Klamath hydro challenges
PacifiCorp license renewal prompts fishery requests

Tam Moore
Capital Press  10/13/2006

Oceangoing fish could again use the upper Klamath River and probably survive high-rise fish ladders the federal government wants constructed.

That's how Administrative Law Judge Parlen McKenna sees challenged facts in the PacifiCorp relicensing case before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. McKenna's report, summarized after a full week of hearings in a Sacramento federal courtroom, was filed Oct. 2.

A repeat of low returns for Klamath wild fall-run chinook prompted the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the states of Oregon and California to close most ocean fishing in 2006 in waters used by Klamath chinook.

Historic runs of salmon, steelhead and ocean-going lamprey eels were blocked when egg taking began in 1910. The U.S. Bureau of Sports Fisheries trapped fish as a runup to construction of COPCO No. 1, the first Klamath hydroelectric dam. It was built in 1917 and began turning out power in 1918. The dam is two miles south of the Oregon border.

A new regulating structure, Iron Gate Dam about five miles east of I-5 in California's Siskiyou County, now blocks fish passage downstream of the original California Oregon Power Co. dams.

It's the renewal of the PacifiCorp licenses for what are now four dams that prompted federal fishery agencies in May to ask for either fish ladders or dam removal as a condition of the FERC issuing another long-term license. Flow requirements for downstream fish dictate upstream storage water availability for irrigation on nearly 200,000 acres of upper basin cropland.

Earlier last week a draft environmental impact statement came out with a FERC staff recommendation that a less-expensive trap-and-haul system be used to get fish around the dams.

McKenna, a U.S. Coast Guard administrative judge based in Alameda, was brought into the case when PacifiCorp challenged what are called "material facts" used by the government in arriving at its fish ladder condition and other proposed license requirements. It will be up to the commissioners to sort out McKenna's findings and those proposed by its staff.

Here's a quick trip through the 94-page report:

n Fish above Iron Gate Dam - There are stocks of salmon and steelhead that should adapt to returning to waters above the dams. There's a low risk that those ocean-going fish would spread disease to resident fish. Opening passage between the dams would probably help resident trout. It's reasonable to estimate that 58 river miles of salmon and steelhead habitat would be gained if fish passage is restored.

n Current project operations and fish - The surge-then-storage of water used for power generation impacts streambanks, and seasonal high flows asked by the agencies will help redband trout. Other proposed flows and river management conditions "would improve fishery resources."

n Flows from J.C. Boyle power plant - Proposed flows below diversion for the Boyle power plant in Oregon will reduce "frequency and quality" of whitewater rafting and decrease opportunities for fly-fishing.

Based on a study of hatchery salmon planted in some reservoirs, then tracked by radio, PacifiCorp consultants argued that physical conditions might not now be appropriate for survival of migrating fish. McKenna would have none of that, saying he found the study "not scientifically reliable." Survival rates for groups of fish ranged from 18 percent to 100 percent.

"The record shows that construction of dams has necessarily changed the migratory behavior of anadromous fish," McKenna wrote. He noted, however, that chinook and coho salmon and steelhead continue to come upriver to the barrier at Iron Gate.

"If access was provided through properly designed, operated and maintained fishways, anadromous fish would migrate past Iron Gate Dam and into the upper Klamath River Basin," he wrote.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.

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