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Taking out dams would hurt Siskiyou County

June 6, 2006 by Marcia H. Armstrong,  Siskiyou County Supervisor District 5 

Guest columnist, Herald and News

It has been 20 years since Congress passed the Klamath Act for the purpose of recovering anadromous fish (salmon) in the Klamath River system. Much of that time, parties have engaged in a tug of war over flows. Fingers have been pointed upstream at the negative impact of natural resource use on fish habitat, resulting in a cessation of timber harvest on local National Forests and a suit that has halted suction dredge mining.

Although some support has been provided to the heroic voluntary habitat restoration efforts of farmers and ranchers in the Scott and Shasta River Valleys of the mid-Klamath, where the fish spawn and rear, the bulk of funding has been expended elsewhere.

With 700 miles of coastal fisheries restricted because of a second year of low Chinook returns to the Klamath, obviously what we have been doing is not working. Yet all we hear is the same old cry for flows, finger pointing and the demand to shut down more activities upon which the inland economy depends.

Research being done by Scott Foott of the CA-NV Fish Health Center, in the Klamath indicated that in 2005, 50 PERCENT of Chinook juveniles sampled were infected with the parasite Ceratomyxa Shasta and 91 percent infected with the parasite parvacapsula. Thirty-eight percent of the fish sampled were dually infected. The infection is generally lethal.

The infection rate has been increasing during the sampling period since 1995. These are the same infections that caused the fish die-off of adult salmon near the mouth of the Klamath in 2002. The parasites have not been found in the mid-Klamath tributaries.

Foott has observed that increased Klamath River flows in May did not appear to affect the rate of infection in juvenile fish. It was actually the increase of water temperature to 18 degrees centigrade, accompanied by a reduction in flows that finally seemed to cause a decrease in infection in juveniles during the month of June.

In regard to the adult die off in 2002, the National Research Council in its final 2003 report stated that no obvious explanation of the fish kill based on unique flow or temperature conditions is possible and it is unclear what the effect of specific amounts of additional flow drawn from controllable upstream sources (Trinity and Iron Gate Reservoir) would have been. High temperatures may have stressed them, making them more susceptible to disease, but they did not die of low flows. The adult fish died of disease.

The hue and cry has been raised to tear down the dams on the Klamath. Siskiyou County believes that it would be rash to rush into removal of the Klamath River dams.

There are more than 1,600 property owners around Copco Lake behind the lower complex of dams. In addition to providing low-cost renewable energy from hydropower, these facilities provide roughly $750,000 a year in tax revenue. The impact of dam removal to the county and local residents would be substantial.

There is no compelling data or studies to demonstrate that dam removal is the best answer to assist in the recovery of fish. There is actually information from PacifiCorp that indicates that water quality would actually be decreased by dam removal.

Siskiyou County is particularly concerned about the impact that sediment migration might have on salmon runs.

Alternatives to dam removal have not received the attention they deserve, such as fish ladders, trucking and other means of bypassing the dams

The county feels alternatives to dam removal should be tested on a pilot basis, until it is shown that dam is the best answer. 

A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

Siskiyou County's economy now stands at 11 percent unemployment - 18.8 percent on the Klamath River corridor. Our median household income at the 2000 census was only $29,530. Let's take some new approaches to solving this problem before all of our economies collapse.

The author





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