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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Battle for the Klamath

12/15/06 Friends of the River
The problem is a series of hydropower dams owned by energy company PacifiCorp. The dams were constructed without fish ladders, and they block salmon from accessing upwards of 300 miles of spawning habitat. The dams produce little power and provide no flood protection. The only thing they do is harm the Klamath river and its salmon. Additionally, the dams have devastating impacts on water quality in the Klamath River. Recent analysis of water samples from Copco and Iron Gate Reservoirs reveal extremely high levels of the toxic blue-green algae Microcystis aeruginosa, which produces a compound known to cause liver failure and promote tumor growth. Samples taken from areas frequented by recreational users of the reservoirs contained cell counts as much as 3,900 times greater than what the World Health Organization (WHO) considers to be a “moderate health risk.”

PacifiCorp is currently seeking a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC—the agency responsible for licensing hydropower dams) to operate the dams for another 30-50 years.

The time for restoration is now. Removal of the Klamath River dams represents a key step in the restoration process as the dams currently block access to more than 350 miles of historic spawning grounds. If restored, the Klamath fishery would be valued at over $4.5 billion, providing a much needed economic boost to local economies.

Iron Gate Dam, and the three other outdated dams, are blocking the salmon from returning home. This dam marks the beginning of the hundreds of miles of historic spawning and rearing habitat that is now unreachable to migrating fish. These dams have outlived their usefulness. They are not used for irrigation or flood control and according to the California Energy Commission, the power produced by the dams would not be missed if the dams were decommissioned.

Despite years of meetings with Tribes, fishermen, conservationists, and agencies and what some experts consider an ironclad case for the removal of PacifiCorp’s Klamath dams, PacifiCorp’s licensing application fails to address the critical issue of fish passage and doesn’t consider dam removal. Worse yet, FERC recently issued a draft environmental impact statement that recommends only modest changes to current dam operations, perpetuating the harm to Klamath salmon and the communities that depend on them.

FERC’s staff recommendation ignores the mandates of agencies for fish screens and ladders, and calls for dam removal from Tribes, conservation groups, and even NOAA Fisheries. The proposal to allow PacifiCorp to drive fish around the dams not only perpetuates the damage caused by PacifiCorp’s dams, but it is illegal too.

FERC is woefully out of step with the rest of the Klamath stakeholders. Filings from the states of California and Oregon, four Klamath basin tribes, 10 environmental groups, and a host of federal agencies all support removing the Klamath dams. Even FERC’s own economic analysis shows that removing the Klamath dams will cost less than constructing the fish ladders and screens PacifiCorp will be required to install under a new license.

Relicensing provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring the salmon home. The State of California can demand protection of the Klamath’s “beneficial uses” including water quality, recreation, and fish habitat in the new license. Therefore, Governor Schwarzenegger has the power to require a feasible strategy to return salmon to the upper Klamath Basin.

You can help by exercising your public voice and asking Governor Schwarzenegger to stand up for the future of the Klamath River and demand that the salmon be brought home!
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