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Forum to focus on Klamath fish, water

Dam removal, fish ladders to be part of Tuesday discussion
by Steve Kadel Herald and News 11/12/06 

Should Klamath River dams be removed to allow fish passage?

Should fish ladders be built at dams to accomplish the same goal?

Or should fish be captured and trucked upstream to bypass dams?

Local residents can tell officials which plan they support Tuesday when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hosts a public meeting in Klamath Falls. The session will be from 9 a.m. to noon at the Shilo Inn.

Testimony will be recorded for FERC officials to consider in writing an Environmental Impact Statement, due next spring. It’s all part of the relicensing of the Klamath hydroelectric project.

PacifiCorp operates dams on the river under a 50-year license that expired March 1. FERC must decide what conditions to impose under the new license, with water quality and restoration of salmon runs two key issues.

Fisheries agencies recommended fish ladders and screens be installed at the dams. But PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme says that’s an approach that will cost an estimated $250 million.

The price is so high because the ladder at Irongate dam must be sixtenths of a mile long. The one at Copco No. 1 dam would be a half mile. Those lengths are required because of the height of the dams.

Instead, PacifiCorp prefers the catch-and-truck approach. Kvamme said the utility should be allowed to try that method first to see if it’s successful rather than being forced to install fish ladders. He notes they must pass costs on to ratepayers.

“We would like to see an adaptive management approach where you test to see what works and what doesn’t,” Kvamme said.

PacifiCorp’s option calls for capturing adult fish coming upstream and collecting migrating juvenile fish headed downstream.

Klamath Basin irrigators have an interest in the process because the Klamath River’s coho salmon are on the federal endangered species list.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users, said irrigators are wary of more restrictions being placed on them because of the coho’s status.

He said Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators have historic relationships with the dams because of the power they generate. That’s one reason irrigators are taking part in settlement talks with other stakeholders regarding relicensing. If the entities can find common ground for conditions of relicensing, FERC would likely implement them.

Meanwhile, both the Karuk Tribe of California and the Klamath Tribes favor removing the four dams that prevent fish passage. Executive Director Allen Foreman said fish ladders would be the next best solution.

“This is not the first time the salmon issue has come up for our Tribes,” Foreman said. “Our elders have been fighting this battle for many years. But the FERC relicensing process has not come up for over 50 years. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Tribes’ treaty rights to finally be upheld.”

Foreman added that removing the dams would not harm agriculture.

“The Tribes strongly favor the ‘fish and farms’ approach to the Basin,” he said. “We need agriculture as well as restoration of the fish for everyone.”

Leaf Hillman, Karuk vice chairman, said dam removal is not only the best solution for fish, but would provide a significant economic boost for the region.

He estimates dam removal would cost $100 million to $200 million, and create more than 2,000 construction jobs.

Hillman said the dams, constructed between 1917 and 1964 for hydropower, are outdated.

“These dams are relics of a bygone era,” he said. “It’s like trying to get your ‘74 Pinto to pass a smog check. At some point it’s time to junk the Pinto and invest in a new car with modern emissions.”

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