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Sunday, October 1, 2006
Last modified Saturday, September 30, 2006 10:49 PM PDT

Klamath issue concerns us, too



In much of the mid-valley we buy our electricity from Pacific Power, so we have a stake in the companyís re-licensing struggle on the Klamath River, even though the dams at issue are more than 200 miles to the south of us.

The company is trying to get the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to renew its licenses to operate four dams on the Klamath: Iron Gate, Copco 1 and 2, all three just south of the state line, and the J.C. Boyle Dam just north of the line in Klamath County.

Federal agencies recommended that the company install fish ladders and screens and increase the flow in the river as a condition of the renewal. Pacific challenged the basis for that recommendation, and this past week in Sacramento, a federal judge rejected the companyís points.

Several conservation groups welcomed the ruling, but they made it clear that they would rather have the dams removed entirely. According to them, FERC estimates that with the recommended actions, the Klamath Project would lose $28 million a year.

Thatís where the situation rests. There are factors other than fish that bear on what should be done.

The four dams generate an average of 735,000 megawatt hours of power a year, enough to supply about 70,000 residential customers. That just happens to be roughly the number of Pacific Power customers in the mid-valley, about 44,200 in Linn County and 30,300 in Benton.

Pacific generates power from hydro, wind and by burning coal and natural gas, but it does not generate enough to serve its entire load and has to buy power from outside suppliers. In other words, the loss of the Klamath Project would have to be made up.

To generate that amount of power would require burning about 360,000 tons of coal a year, or 5 billion cubic feet of natural gas. (Wasnít there something in the news about CO2 and global warming?)

Just installing the fish ladders and screens would cost around $250 million, or as the company puts it, a quarter-billion dollars with a b. Is anybody worried about power rates, assuming that the project would somehow remain economical despite the FERC estimate?

Thereís no question that the dams, completed between 1908 and 1962, cut off the upstream salmon habitat. But since they have been around for more than half a century, how can the recent salmon crisis in the Klamath system be blamed mainly on the dams?

If the dams were removed, what would migrating fish get? They would regain access to the Klamath basin, so heavily affected by agriculture, irrigation and urban runoff that the fish might wish they had stayed downstream.

Letís hope the government does not require things that would cause this important power source to be lost.

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