Removing 4 Klamath River dams
may save money, report finds
The federal study says
pulling the plug could cost $100 million less than
By Eric Bailey, LA Times December 2, 2006
SACRAMENTO — Setting the stage for a knockdown
fight over the fate of four towering Klamath River
dams accused of hammering salmon stocks and the
West Coast fishing industry, a new government
study released Friday has found that
decommissioning the dams could cost $100 million
less than operating them for another generation.
The economic analysis, ordered by the California
Energy Commission in cooperation with the U.S.
Department of the Interior, should provide
ammunition for Indian tribes, environmentalists
and commercial fishermen eager to see the
hydropower dams demolished to reopen more than 300
miles of river that have been blocked to migrating
salmon for more than half a century.
"It's now official: The Klamath hydro project is
an economic loser," said Steve Rothert of the
group American Rivers.
But officials with the owner of the dams,
billionaire Warren E. Buffett's Portland-based
PacifiCorp, say they will seek dam license renewal
from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,
which is scheduled to rule on a new permit early
next year. On Friday, the firm released its own
plan, listing several ways the dams could be
modified to ease concerns about salmon.
ADVERTISEMENT Bill Fehrman, president of
PacifiCorp Energy, said in a statement that the
company's proposal probably wouldn't mollify its
critics, but that it would prove the firm's desire
to be "environmental stewards" while allowing the
dams to continue generating "clean, reliable
That goal stands in contrast to the conclusion of
the 92-page study that California officials
The report, produced by a private consulting firm
and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Technical
Services Center, found that the cost of
demolishing the dams and buying market-rate
electricity to offset the lost hydropower over the
next three decades would be far less than
installing the vast infrastructure and
improvements expected to be needed for the dams to
win license renewal.
Though the hydro project historically has been
able to cheaply deliver enough power for about
70,000 homes, new environmental rules would limit
the project's unfettered operation, reducing
electricity generation by 23%, the study found.
The cost of erecting fish ladders and other
projects to help salmon get past the dams and cure
water-quality problems would boost the 30-year
cost of the project to between $230 million and
$470 million, according to the report.
Removing the dams and buying replacement
electricity over the next three decades would cost
between $152 million and $277 million, the report
said. Depending on the price of power in the
future, dam removal could save PacifiCorp
ratepayers up to $285 million during that period,
with a "midline scenario" forecasting a savings of
Decommissioning the dams "would create net
economic benefits for PacifiCorp's ratepayers"
while also offering the potential for "restoring
salmon runs to one of the most important remaining
salmon rivers on the West Coast," the study
Howard McConnell, chairman of the Yurok Tribe,
concluded that the dams represent "weapons of
genocide," hurting the fish that the tribe for
generations has depended on for food and spiritual
Officials with PacifiCorp objected to several of
the study's findings, most notably the cost of
removing the dams and the potential negative
effects of releasing the huge load of sediment
trapped behind them.
Dave Kvamme, a company spokesman, said nobody
really knows what it would cost to remove the
dams, and added that efforts by PacifiCorp to
demolish a far smaller dam on Washington state's
White Salmon River had run into numerous
roadblocks that have delayed removal for more than
six years and driven up the price.
"We're generally skeptical of these sorts of
assumptions on complicated matters," Kvamme said
of the new study. "There are tremendous risks in
taking out dams, and those haven't been factored
into any of the costs for that alternative."
In addition, removal of the dams could expose the
river to even poorer-quality water pouring out of
Upper Klamath Lake, Kvamme said. The lake is
loaded with nutrients that can pose problems for
fish, and the dams act as settling ponds before
releasing water downriver, he said.
But the company left open the possibility of a
negotiated solution with dam critics. For more
than a year, PacifiCorp representatives have been
meeting with dam opponents and government
officials. Fehrman said they continue to believe
"a better, long-term solution" to the river's
salmon woes can be achieved through those talks.
This year, troubles with salmon stocks prompted
federal officials to dramatically limit commercial
fishing on the West Coast.
Efforts to win more than $60 million in disaster
funding for troubled fishing fleets have run
aground this year — and time is running out.
Republicans have balked despite a plea by U.S.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.