Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Dam removal makes economic sense
Many of us who live along the Klamath River have watched the fish runs plummet and with them our local economies. Communities such as Happy Camp, once known as the “Steelhead Capital of the World,” brought anglers to our area from around the world. Today, these communities have had their economic bedrock, the fishery, ripped out from under them. The Klamath once returned nearly a million wild salmon each year. This year the expected return is fewer than 30,000 fish.
Now the Klamath problem is metastasizing. Recently, the decision to severely restrict over 700 miles of coastline to salmon fishing has grabbed the attention of lawmakers from Los Angeles to Portland. The fishery closure could result in economic losses of $200 million and drive many family fishermen out of business.
However, there is hope for the Klamath. The current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing of the Klamath dams provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reverse this trend by enabling the removal of the lower four Klamath Dams.
The dams cause problems for salmon and steelhead in two ways.
First, they deny access to more than 350 miles of historic spawning habitat.
Second, the dams degrade water quality. The stagnant reservoirs soak up sunlight and warm the water to temperatures lethal to salmon.
In addition, the reservoirs host massive algal blooms that are bad for both fish and humans. The algae provides habitat for the parasites that cause gill rot and other fish diseases.
One of the algal species the reservoirs host, Microcystis aeruginosa, secretes a potent liver toxin. Last year water quality experts found the toxin present at levels as high as 1,000-fold higher than what the World Health Organization considers a moderate health risk. These dams are dangerous to fish and people.
Removing these dams will take political will. With the economic problems that stem from the collapsing fishery, politicians are under pressure to act.
For years, there has been little in the way of big fixes for the Klamath that could gain bipartisan traction. Few politicians would dare suggest downsizing the Klamath Reclamation Project as many conservationists have suggested. However, since the lower four dams provide no water for farms, dam removal is a politically practical approach to helping salmon recover.
Experts believe that dam removal could cost as much as $100 million. A lot of money, but less than the estimated $187 million it would cost PacifiCorp to add ladders to the dams — a criterion federal agencies have placed on the utility for issuance of a new license. Given the fact that the two most politically powerful players in the Basin — Tribes and irrigators — appear willing to work together on a holistic Klamath package that would include dam removal and affordable power for farmers, Congress may be willing to foot the bill for additional restoration projects as well.
Funding for dam removal and ensuing restoration efforts could come from Pacifi-Corp, state governments, the federal government, or most likely a combination of the above. This kind of funding would be an economic windfall for the area. The jobs dam removal would create for area construction firms and supporting businesses would be huge. In addition, there are long-term economic opportunities afforded by an increase in salmon in the area. Happy Camp could again be ‘Steelhead Capital of the World.’
It’s time for our area leaders to acknowledge the fact that these dams kill fish. In addition they must have the business savvy to understand that salmon restoration means jobs.
Our leaders must stop defending Pacifi-Corp, a company that kills our fish and sends its profits outside the region. Instead, local politicians should be fighting for fisheries restoration and the economic benefits restoration brings. It is time for local elected officials to lead the charge to remove the dams to benefit our economy and our standard of living. It is time for our leaders to bring the salmon — and the restoration dollars — home.
KBC Comments regarding Tucker's column:
The coastal fisheries were severely limited
this year because of Pacific Management
Council and NOAA Fisheries "projection" of
fall run salmon in the Klamath River.
Tucker's view of the Klamath River
"projected" fish numbers does not mention
ocean conditions responsible for the low fish
numbers in Canada and other places in other
rivers, and it does not mention predators; sea
lions are consuming tens of thousands of
salmon a year at the mouth of the Klamath, so
these fish can not return. The Baja Sea Lions
are protected, even though they are not
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2005, All Rights Reserved