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It takes a lot of looking before you bust a dam

By DYLAN DARLING Freelance Writer


Two biologists deep in the fish ladder at Chiloquin Dam, last week sample migrating sucker fish. The federal government is pressing to get studies done this year leading up to removal of the aging dam built decades ago by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
CHILOQUIN, Ore. — There’s money in the budget to do some dam busting, but the federal government figures it needs a year’s worth of studies first.

Target of the attention is Chiloquin Dam, built by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and owned by Modoc Point Irrigation District. A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study last year recommended removing the aging dam to open about 70 miles of the Sprague River to spawning habitat for two sucker fish that spend much of their adult life in Upper Klamath Lake.

Doug Tedrick of the BIA came to Chiloquin last week to tell a group of stakeholders an environmental and engineering study is needed first. The administration earmarked $2.1 million for dam removal in the budget request for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Tedrick said before any demolition can begin, the government will look at whether the dam should be removed, get an improved fish ladder or be left alone. Oregon’s congressional delegation put dam removal on the fast track after national interest focused on the Klamath Basin’s federal irrigation water cutoff of 2001. Managing lake levels for sucker fish habitat was a key part of the drought-year juggling act that led to the water cutoff decision.

Tedrick, who works in the BIA Washington, D.C., office, said the government’s focus is figuring out what will be best for the fish.

“This project is about improving fish passage — restoring suckers,” Tedrick said.

Topping the list of stakeholder concerns is a replacement diversion point for Modoc Point’s irrigation system. There’s already a federally built pumping station downstream of the dam that’s never been put into service. Locals hope the federal government will pay pumping expense.

BIA will wrap the issues into an Environmental Impact Statement, and add to it engineering data and biological research.

“We believe we can get all those things done this year,” Tedrick said.

Allen Foreman, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, said the government’s attention to the dam is an opportunity to bring many projects in the Chiloquin community together.

“All of the ideas out there could be combined into one,” he said.

But those ideas will have to be brought up quickly.

Because of the hyper schedule — government’s goal is to get the needed studies done this calendar year— the groups involved need to make sure they get all the issues identified, said Tom Burns of the Modoc Point Irrigation District.

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