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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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February 5, 2004, Klamath Falls meeting



The Klamath Hydroelectric Project (Project) consists of seven mainstem hydroelectric developments on the upper Klamath River and one tributary hydroelectric development. PacifiCorp owns and operates the Project under a single license issued in 1956 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The 50-year license (FERC Project No. 2082) expires on March 1, 2006.

The Project is located on the upper Klamath River in Klamath County, south-central Oregon, and Siskiyou County, north-central California. The nearest principal cities are Klamath Falls, Oregon, located at the northern end of the Project area, Medford, Oregon, 45 miles northwest of the downstream end of the Project, and Yreka, California, 20 miles southwest of the downstream end. (See maps.)

The Project consists of six generating developments along the mainstem of the upper Klamath River, between river mile (RM) 190 and RM 254, a re-regulation dam with no generation facilities, and one generating development on Fall Creek, a tributary to the Klamath River at about RM 196. (See the schematic representation of the relative locations and layout of Project facilities.)

Link River Dam and the associated East Side (3.2 megawatt [MW]) and West Side (0.6 MW) powerhouses are the most upstream facilities, located near RM 254 within the city limits of Klamath Falls, Oregon. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) owns the Link River Dam and PacifiCorp operates it under USBR’s directive. PacifiCorp’s obligation to operate Link River dam for USBR concludes with the termination of the 1956 contract in 2006.

Link River Dam is not considered part of the licensed Project. The dam was built to supply water to both USBR’s Klamath Irrigation Project and PacifiCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project. East Side and West Side powerhouses and associated waterways are part of the FERC Project. As part of the relicensing process, PacifiCorp is proposing to decommission the East Side and West Side powerhouses and associated facilities.

Keno Dam, a re-regulating facility with no generation capability, is the next facility, 20 miles downstream at RM 233. Keno reservoir buffers inflow and outflow of the Klamath Irrigation Project. The dam is operated via a contract with USBR to maintain reservoir elevations that facilitate water transfer between the reservoir and the Klamath Irrigation Project. This contract will terminate in 2006. Because Keno Dam does not substantially benefit generation at PacifiCorp’s downstream hydroelectric facilities, PacifiCorp is excluding the Keno development from the relicensing project.

The next facility is J.C. Boyle (80 MW). The dam is at RM 224.7 and the powerhouse is several miles downstream at RM 220.4. As the river continues into California, it enters Copco reservoir, which supplies Copco No. 1 (20 MW) and No. 2 (27 MW) hydroelectric facilities, at RM 198.6 and RM 196.8, respectively.

The Iron Gate facility (18 MW) is farthest downstream at RM 190. The California Department of Fish and Game operates a fish hatchery immediately downstream of Iron Gate Dam. Fall Creek, a tributary, flows through a small powerhouse (2.2 MW) and then into the upper end of Iron Gate reservoir.




  • PacifiCorp has developed flow and water quality models for the Klamath River, specifically from Link Dam (RM 255) to Turwar, California (RM 6). The models can analyze water quality from Link Dam to Iron Gate Dam and below, and show how the PacifiCorp facilities contribute to or control water quality conditions in and downstream of the dams. The models can address questions related to PacifiCorp operations including (1) whether and how operations might contribute to water quality conditions, and (2) whether and how operations might feasibly contribute to water quality improvements.
  • PacifiCorp formally offered the use of the models to California, Oregon, and EPA in a letter dated January 14, 2004.
  • Flow and water quality conditions in the Klamath River basin vary dramatically in the approximately 250 miles from Link Dam, near Klamath Falls, Oregon, to Turwar, California. There is a wide range of natural and anthropogenic influences in the Klamath River system throughout this region:
  • Inflows at Link Dam originate in hypereutrophic Upper Klamath Lake.
  • There are four major reservoirs on the mainstem Klamath River below Upper Klamath Lake: Keno, J.C. Boyle, Copco, and Iron Gate Reservoirs.
  • Diversions and return flows for agriculture, as well as municipal and industrial use, occur in the reach between Link Dam and Keno Dam.
  • The river receives considerable inflow from tributaries as it flows toward the Pacific Ocean.
  • Discrete river models and reservoir models are applied to represent highly dynamic flow regimes at short space and time steps. The river reaches are represented with flow and water quality models. The flow model output – velocity, depth, a representative surface, and bed areas – are passed to the water quality model. The water quality model uses this information to simulate the fate and transport of a wide range of physical, chemical, and biological constituents. The suite of river models is applied on a sub-daily time step (maximum time step is one-hour) to capture the short-term response of various parameters, such as temperature and dissolved oxygen.
  • Similarly, the hydrodynamic and water quality model for system reservoirs represents a wide range of water quality processes, including physical, chemical, and biological. The reservoir model interfaces with the river model.
  • The models are applied in series, starting with the uppermost reach – Link River – and passing the output from one reach to the next.




Existing Representation


Link River River RMA-2/RMA-11
Lake Ewauna-Keno Dam Reservoir CE-QUAL-W2
Keno Dam to J.C. Boyle Reservoir River RMA-2/RMA-11
J.C. Boyle Reservoir Reservoir CE-QUAL-W2
J.C. Boyle Bypass Reach1 River RMA-2/RMA-11
J.C. Boyle Peaking Reach1 River RMA-2/RMA-11
Copco Reservoir2 Reservoir CE-QUAL-W2
Iron Gate Reservoir Reservoir CE-QUAL-W2
Iron Gate Dam to Turwar River RMA-2/RMA-11
1 The J.C. Boyle bypass and peaking reaches are modeled as a single reach.

2 Copco No. 2 is small, and not represented in the framework.




  • The model has been calibrated, and simulates system conditions from Link Dam to Turwar (a distance of approximately 250 miles). The models look at four system-wide scenarios: existing conditions (EC), steady flow (SF), and two without-Project scenarios (WOP and WOP II). These scenarios were intended to bracket the range of potential physical and operational conditions within the PacifiCorp area. For each scenario, the models were applied for a full calendar year for the years 2000 and 2001.
  • The existing conditions scenario represents the baseline status and is used for comparing conditions without peaking hydropower operations (steady flow scenario) and a river system without hydropower facilities (without-Project scenarios). The without-Project I scenario simply assumes conditions in the absence of hydropower facilities. Because Project reservoir storage is assumed to be absent, this scenario results in significant flow fluctuations (particularly in the Keno reach) from USBR irrigation project operations. The without-Project II scenario is an effort to smooth river flows to produce a hydrograph that does not exhibit the fluctuations caused by USBR project operations.
  • These analyses are intended to examine large-scale system response over periods when critical water quality conditions tend to occur (spring-fall) in the Klamath River basin. The models provide output focusing on critical reaches, specific operations, and limited time periods. The basic output extracted from each scenario is hourly time series data at multiple locations for temperature and dissolved oxygen, and all other parameters are available at the hourly output frequency. Processed output includes data for daily mean, daily maximum, daily minimum, monthly mean, and 7-day maximum average temperature, as well as similar statistics for dissolved oxygen.


  • Utility Of Maintaining Dams In Place
  • The PacifiCorp dams in the Middle Klamath are serving important functions. Some of those functions are attributable simply to the fact that they create a series of lakes. Turbidity, for example, diminishes as water moves through the system; turbidity can be a surrogate for particulate matter, including dead algae and other nutrients. Particulate organic matter that originates, or is a result of nutrients released from Upper Klamath Lake, agricultural return flows, and municipal and industrial inputs in the Klamath Falls area is to a large extent trapped by system reservoirs (settles out), reducing the overall nutrient load to the reaches below Iron Gate Dam.
  • All of the reservoirs are "productive," and organic loads are elevated in all of them; however, Upper Klamath Lake is in general several times as "productive" as Iron Gate and Copco reservoirs. Further, Upper Klamath Lake is a much larger body of water with a large surface area, and can produce appreciable organic inputs to the Klamath River. Comparatively, Iron Gate and Copco reservoirs have much smaller surface areas and, although productive, do not yield the same loading potential as Upper Klamath Lake. These reservoirs thus have a considerably smaller impact on releases to the Klamath River than Upper Klamath Lake.
  • Consequences of Dam Removal
  • Under current conditions even if all the dams were removed below Link Dam, the resulting river reaches could not assimilate or retain anywhere near what the dams now assimilate or retain. Basically, without the dams, there is potential for water with substantially impaired water quality to flow downstream to the middle Klamath River reaches. Without the current impoundments in place, water would reach the area of Iron Gate Dam in two to three days versus six to eight weeks. The dams are beneficial for water quality, because the water quality from Upper Klamath Lake and the agricultural return inputs (e.g., Straits Drain, Lost River Diversion Channel) is severely impaired, and the reservoirs trap appreciable amounts of matter, thereby reducing the load to downstream reaches.
  • If Iron Gate Dam were removed, the river below Copco I and II developments would be slightly warmer than the river below Iron Gate Dam because Copco is smaller and has a smaller cold water pool. There would be unknown silt impacts downstream of Iron Gate Dam upon removal. There would still be "thermal lag," even without Iron Gate Dam, since the Copco Dam would continue to have a thermal lag effect. Finally, cold water in Iron Gate Dam is a source of water for the fish hatchery, so removal would result in no cold water supply for the hatchery.
  • Removing Iron Gate Dam would restore approximately eight river miles, with resultant increase in mainstream reaches, and some spawning habitat. It is estimated that of the eight miles of restored stream, only 17 percent would be spawning habitat. There are only three tributaries to which access would be regained – Camp, Jenny, and Fall Creeks. Flows and access to Camp and Jenny Creeks are substantially impaired. On Fall Creek, the City of Yreka can divert up to 15 cfs of the normally available 40 - 50 cfs tributary flow.



  • PacifiCorp, in consultation with stakeholders, is using two models (KlamRAS, EDT) to examine fish passage and anadromous salmon reintroduction strategies in stream reaches upstream of Iron Gate Dam. The base data have been entered for the models for Project dams and reservoirs, as well as stream reaches up to Spencer Creek (below Keno Dam). The Habitat Modeling Group (HMG) is currently in the process of reviewing data inputs for these reaches and ranking habitat data for approximately 250 miles of stream and lake habitat upstream of Keno Dam. This data will be entered into the Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment model (EDT) and used to examine fish production potential of the Upper Klamath River basin.
  • EDT is a state-of-the-art habitat model, which incorporates habitat features and biological productivity into the analysis of fish passage options. It provides a comprehensive habitat based tool to address the success of restoring anadromous fish runs to the upper Klamath River basin above Iron Gate Dam. This model is being used by state, city, tribal and federal agencies to address salmon restoration throughout the Pacific Northwest. The habitat inputs used in EDT modeling are being developed from various sources, including:
  1. Results of water quality, geomorphology, and project operations studies conducted as part of relicensing;
  2. Studies conducted by other parties in the upper and lower Klamath River basin, including information on juvenile emigration timing, migration speed and survival in the Lower Klamath River, effects of disease on native fish populations, run-size estimates, estuary conditions and mainstem habitat quality and quantity;
  3. Historical fisheries literature developed both within and outside the Klamath River basin; and
  4. Expert opinion of the HMG members familiar with Klamath River habitat and fish reintroduction efforts in other basins.
  • The habitat quantity and quality outputs from EDT are being used as inputs into KlamRAS. KlamRAS is being used to focus on dam and reservoir passage efficiencies so that passage options (operations, facilities) can be assessed. The KlamRAS model incorporates both habitat data (from EDT) and fish passage survival through Project structures to estimate fish production in specific reaches or areas of the basin. The model can explore how different assumptions affect model results; this model is being used primarily as a "gaming" tool to assess the effects various fish passage options have on fish production.


  • EDT Model outputs for the Klamath include estimates of chinook, coho, and steelhead productivity, capacity, and diversity. These three parameters are defined by NOAA Fisheries as needed to evaluate the viability of salmon populations. The model allows the user to identify key reaches for restoration or protection.
  • The KlamRAS model is being used to examine different project configurations to estimate impacts on anadromous fish production and survival. The alternative scenarios include dam removal, volitional passage through fish ladders and screens, and trap-and-haul systems located at various locations in the Project area. It is envisioned that the model will be used to conduct sensitivity analysis on all input parameters to identify the critical uncertainties that drive model outputs, and thus the feasibility of reintroducing anadromous fishes to the upper basin.


  • Preliminary model runs show that even when passage survival through reservoirs and dams is assumed to be high, resulting fall chinook salmon production is still quite low and probably not sustainable. With the removal of Iron Gate Dam, fall chinook adult returns increase to approximately 1,000 spawners. Factors responsible for low estimates of fish returns include: high chinook harvest rates (15% ocean, 30% freshwater), disease (Ceratomyxosis), and poor water quality. The major water quality problem identified through modeling, even with Iron Gate Dam removed, is high water temperatures (>21 C) that occur during the peak juvenile migration period for this species. Water temperatures at this level put considerable stress on salmon populations; which in turn make them highly susceptible to disease.
  • The removal of Iron Gate Dam increases total mainstem Klamath River habitat from 194 miles to approximately 202 miles (an increase of approximately eight miles). The removal of Iron Gate Dam only allows anadromous fish access to three tributaries of any size: Camp Creek, Jenny Creek and Fall Creek (less than a combined 5 miles of usable habitat), and a significant amount of both Jenny Creek and Fall Creek streamflow is diverted for water supply purposes and irrigation needs. Unless flows are restored, model results show little anadromous production is possible from these streams.
  • Based on initial analyses, the HMG has concluded that stream habitat upstream of the Project area would be critical to the success of any reintroduction effort. The group is evaluating habitat potential upstream of Keno Dam.
  • The preliminary conclusions of modeling are not surprising, and confirm the findings of three previous reviews of the reintroduction issue. Reports produced by Fortune et al., (1966), Klamath River Basin Fisheries Task Force (1992), and ODFW (1997) pointed out the problems that need to be overcome to re-establish anadromous fish to the Upper Klamath River. As summarized by ODFW (1997): "Because of existing habitat problems, loss of native stocks, risk of disease introduction and potential competition with remaining native redband trout, it does not appear feasible, or prudent, to attempt re-establishment of anadromous salmon or steelhead to the Upper Klamath Basin in Oregon, now or in the future".
  • Notwithstanding the findings of these previous reviews, PacifiCorp has committed significant resources to conduct what is probably the most intensive review of the anadromous reintroduction issue undertaken to date.


  • PacifiCorp endorses the principle that a global effort is needed to address all of the myriad issues related to the Klamath River system. However, PacifiCorp is also committed to exploring efforts to accomplish the most immediate and effective possible improvements to the basin to improve the Klamath River fishery.
  • Opportunities on the Scott and Shasta Rivers could be developed in the near term. The positive effects of tributary improvements promise to be vastly superior to any which could be postulated as a result of removal of Iron Gate Dam. Because of the importance of finding near-term effective and significant improvements to the system and the fishery, every effort should be made to explore those alternatives on a priority basis, with priority given to tributary efforts consistent with both the National Academy of Science study and the California Department of Fish and Game Draft Recovery Strategy.


Dams are not usually thought of as "good for water quality." On the Klamath River, however, dams have important positive water quality effects. Removal of Iron Gate Dam – under current conditions – is not a good idea because of severely impaired water in upstream reaches, namely Upper Klamath Lake and the Reclamation project, which would wash down into the middle Klamath, with resulting degraded conditions (low DO, increased primary productivity, elevated pH, unionized ammonia issues, increased turbidity). If Upper Klamath Lake were "restored" to some as yet to be determined level, the removal of Iron Gate Dam or other facilities could be used to increase juvenile and adult survival through the Project area. Even then, however, there are other alternatives besides dam removal that could be implemented to achieve this same result.

As can be seen from a review of previous investigations of the feasibility of restoring anadromous fishes to the Upper Klamath River basin, the hurdles that need to be overcome to make reintroduction a reality are tremendous. Problems include a lack of suitable stocks for reintroduction, possible disease impacts on native redband trout population, poor water quality, fish survival and passage through the lake environments, dam complex, and the 194 miles of mainstem Lower Klamath River.

From a water quality perspective, restoring Upper Klamath Lake and reoperating and reconfiguring the Reclamation project to minimize and mitigate potential downstream impacts is also an enormous challenge. It is crucial to look at current conditions, particularly the severely impaired conditions in the Upper Klamath Lake and the Reclamation project, in determining the most effective course of action for recovering ecosystem function and fish stocks in the Klamath River basin.

Because removal of Iron Gate Dam would have an overall negative effect on water quality below the dam at this time, it makes the most sense to focus fish recovery action now, and for the foreseeable future, on restoring Shasta and Scott River habitat, and to endeavor to reverse the hypereutrophic state of Upper Klamath Lake and improve the water quality of Reclamation return flows over the long haul. Focusing our actions and resources in the Scott and Shasta River allows us to provide immediate benefits to the chinook, coho and steelhead populations of the basin. In contrast, benefits to basin fisheries resources from a reintroduction effort in the Upper Klamath basin will not be realized for decades into the future, with no guarantee of success.





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