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“Klamath River Dams are Coming Out!”
Herald and News by Molly O'Brian 2/17/23
The upcoming dam removal project has the potential to benefit not only aquatic species but also improve prosperity of agriculture and recreation in the Klamath Basin.
Mark Bronson gave a free presentation on the dam removals for the 2023 Winter Wings Festival. Bronson is the executive director of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), the nonprofit leading the removal of four hydroelectric dams in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
Bronson’s talk — “Klamath River Dams are Coming Out!” — noted a number of beneficial outcomes that could breathe new life into more than just the endangered fish species in the region.
Spawn of endemic species such as the C’waam and Koptu, as well as that of salmon, steelhead and lamprey, have dwindled to frighteningly low numbers in recent years due to Ceratonova shasta — a parasitic infection with a “90-plus percent mortality rate” for the fish which inhabit the Klamath River.
Efforts to decrease the presence of this parasite, the Bureau of Reclamation releases a “block of water” from Upper Klamath Lake, performing a flushing flow of waters at the Iron Gate Dam.
Bronson said that, if things go as planned, retaining that water won’t be necessary anymore.
“If we get these dams out of the way, and we restore a natural hydrologic regime, a more natural sediment transport regime, we’re hopeful that the sediment will do the work of this release of this flushing flow that the bureau does every year,” Bronson said. “That’s 50,000 acre-feet a year that could remain in Upper Klamath Lake.”
With little in the way of water resources in the Klamath Basin, this additional provision could improve water availability for agricultural and restoration usage.
The removal of Klamath River dams will also improve sediment distribution and waterflow. This would greatly improve Upper Klamath Lake water quality, allowing recreational use of water which is frequently too toxic to enter due to dangerous algal blooms.
The four dams scheduled for removal are the Northern California dams, Copco 1, Copco 2 and Iron Gate, as well as the JC Boyle dam located in Klamath County.
Bronson said that 2023 is what’s known as the “pre-draw-down” year which will include eight to nine months of construction for preparation of dam draw-down. for the draining of the dams’ reservoirs and transportation of sediment.
“Draw-down year” will take place over the course of 2024, during which the reservoirs will be drained and sediment will be relocated to benefit river restoration.
“The restoration activity will start in earnest in 2025 and continue out, roughly, 2030 or so,” Bronson said.
The first of the four dams to undergo its draw-down will be Copco 1, the bottom of which will be drilled to create a new “adit,” or hole, to drain water and move sediment downstream.
“We’ll drill it this summer and fall,” Bronson said. “We’ll leave a couple of feet at the upstream face of the dam, and then, when we’re ready to initiate the draw down in early January of 2024, we’ll blast out that plug, open the gate at the downstream end, and that will be the mechanism by which we’ll mobilize the sediment by using the power of the water in the reservoir to flush that sediment out.”
All four dams are hydroelectric — they provide electricity to the power grid — so Bronson was asked how this removal project would affect local energy resources.
“These four dams represent less than 2% of Pacific Power’s generating portfolio,” Bronson said. “They have already replaced this power many, many times over, including the development of renewable resources.”
Bronson also noted that the power a community uses does not necessarily originate from a “particular generating facility” in that same region. Instead, the energy goes onto the grid and is directed toward wherever it is needed at any given time.
Here is a comment that Klamath Irrigation District Manager Gene Souza posted on Klamath Basin Crisis Facebook page in response to the above article:
"I did not attend...however, I find several inaccurate statements here.
1. Flushing flows are still required to move the sediment....sounds like he is stating through at least 2030.
2. The sediment is likely to contain harmful chemicals arsenic and mercury which will cause mortality in numerous species.
3. The sediment and contaminates will settle into Chinook redds. Chinook require large cobble to spawn, not fine sediment. Therefore, Chinook will become endangered.
4. Dam removal has no effect or affect on algae blooms in Upper Klamath Lake. These factors are highly disconnected unless the plan is to lower Upper Klamath Lake to natural levels in drought years.
5. Flushing flows require stored water. Stored water is what agricultural producers depend upon when live flow is not available. Thus this does not help farmers.
6. NMFS has not stated flushing flows and unnaturally high river flows will be brought down to natural flow rates at any time in the future.
7. Dam removal does not guarantee anadromous fish will go into the upper reaches. Historical accounts actually suggest anadromous species are unable to make it above a reef somewhere below Keno...studies suggest near COPCO #1.
8. WITHOUT REDUCED FLOWS INTO THE KLAMATH RIVER CANYON, refuges, former lakes and marshes, and farmland on those former lakes continues to turn into desert lands.
9. 90% infection of C.shasta by select species does not equal mortality. That is like saying everyone dies from the common cold and is inaccurate. If 90% mortality? Then why are suckers, Redland, carp, and others thriving?"
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