Klamath dam reports conflict
by Tim Riosm, Siskiyou Daily News, October 11,
SISKIYOU COUNTY — Mimicking the Klamath River
itself, PacifiCorp’s dam saga took a series of
twists and turns recently with a draft
environmental impact analysis filed by the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission, a California Coastal
Conservancy report on sediment, and a judge’s
ruling on the issue.
PacifiCorp is currently lobbying to renew a
50-year operating license from FERC to operate
Klamath River dams in southern Oregon and Northern
The dams produce enough electricity for 70,000
customers and 2 percent of PacifiCorp's
Federal agencies told FERC earlier this year that
PacifiCorp must install fish ladders, fish screens
and reduce the amount of water diverted to
turbines to help struggling salmon return to the
But Pacificorp is clinging to a 2005 federal
Energy Policy Act.
The 2005 Act lets dam operators challenge
conditions to protect wildlife set by other
federal agencies through a hearing before an
administrative law judge.
It also allows dam operators to suggest
alternative environmental measures, and requires
the judge to approve those measures if they are
“adequate” and will be less expensive or allow for
greater electricity production.
Acting on the 2005 Act, PacifiCorp said it will
continue to seek approval for an alternate “trap
and haul” program — a proposal to truck salmon
around four dams on the Klamath as a condition of
a new 50-year operating license.
PacifiCorp made the assertion after unsuccessfully
challenging the science behind the federal mandate
to build more expensive fish ladders.
In findings filed on September 27 by
administrative law judge Parlen L. McKenna of
Alameda, Calif., the utility lost on 11 out of 14
Judge McKenna found that salmon and steelhead
historically spawned and matured in the reaches of
the Klamath, Upper Klamath Lake, and tributaries
before the first of the dams was built in 1917.
Habitat above the dams is good enough, and fish
living below the dams are genetically suitable to
repopulate the new areas, despite warm water in
the summer, diseases in the water, and predators
in the reservoirs, the judge found.
"The fact that anadromous fish currently complete
life cycles through eight dams and reservoirs on
the Columbia and Snake rivers, and historically
completed life cycles through Upper Klamath lake,
provides strong evidence that anadromous salmonids
could also migrate through the reservoirs created
by Project facilities," McKenna wrote.
PacifiCorp has estimated it would cost $250
million to build fish ladders and make other
improvements for salmon mandated by federal
fisheries agencies, and would cut power production
at the 150-megawatt facility in half.
FERC has estimated that the federal fish mandates
would leave PacifiCorp losing $28.7 million a year
if it continues to operate the dams.
Concerns about the toxicity of sediment build-up
behind the dams was addressed by a recent study
filed by the California State Coastal Conservancy.
The CSCC study found that removal of the dams
would be less expensive than originally forecast,
and would be a better solution to the health of
the Klamath River’s ailing fishing industry.
According to the study, sediments built up behind
the dams contain very low levels of toxic
leftovers from gold mining, farming and plywood
Investigations were conducted into the volume as
well as physical and chemical characteristics of
the sediment by collecting 45 sediment samples at
26 locations in Iron Gate, Copco 1 and JC Boyle
Of the 27 sediment samples analyzed, only one
sample contained concentrations exceeding test
screening criteria. The study found that no
sediment samples contained metals, pesticides,
herbicides, PCBs, DDT or dioxins at concentrations
above screening levels.
The only contaminants detected above screening
levels were ethylbenzene and xylenes. The report
describes these as common volatile organic
compounds (or VOCs) found in oils and gasoline,
which likely came from spills from recreational
Also according to the study, the volume of
sediment stored behind the three reservoirs was
greater than previously expected.
The report concluded, however, that even under the
worst case scenario, the natural erosion of the
sediments would not pose a flood risk downstream.
Previous studies estimated a total of
approximately 14 million cubic yards stored in the
reservoirs. The study released today estimates 20
million cubic yards is trapped by the dams.
The study estimates that only 3 million cubic
yards of sediment would be eroded downstream of
Iron Gate because much of it would sit beyond the
reach of the restored river channel.
The report concluded that the sediment would not
have to be mechanically excavated and could erode
naturally downstream without causing a risk of
contamination or flooding.