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Don't put onus on Project for saving salmon

Herald and News Editorial May 7, 2006

PacifiCorp wants to haul salmon by truck around its four dams on the Klamath River, rather than pay $200 million to build fish ladders and screens. That proposal was made April 28 as the power company threads its way through the relicensing procedure for the dams. The licenses are nearing the end of their 50-year life, though they can be extended on a year-to-year basis.

At least some of the downstream Indian tribes want the dams breached, and the river restored to a more natural flow, which would let salmon migrate into the Upper Klamath Basin on their own. They don't want the fish trucked.

By any method used, Upper Basin irrigators need to come out of the dam relicensing process with adequate water, affordable power rates and secure from damage caused by introducing another endangered species into the Upper Basin.

The first two points have long been subjects of debate, though the power rate issue appears to have been settled, and irrigators' costs will increase substantially.

The third is a new one.

PacifiCorp says it doesn't believe water quality in the Upper Basin is good enough to sustain salmon once they get here - regardless of how they do it - and that's why it didn't include restoration of a salmon fishery in the Upper Basin when it filed to relicense the dams. The dams were built from 1918 to 1962. Prior to that, salmon migrated to the Upper Basin to spawn.

The loss of the habitat above the dams was to be made up by hatchery production, which is another point of controversy over efforts to differentiate between hatchery salmon and wild salmon. Much of the Pacific Coast will be closed to salmon fishing this year to protect wild Klamath River chinook salmon, which have had three years of low returns to the Klamath. (Returns of the hatchery fish aren't part of the issue.) That closure likely will be devastating to many coastal fishermen. Irrigators who went through the 2001 water shutdown on the Klamath Project can relate to that.

Because of all that, anything being done on the Klamath River draws a lot of attention.

But rather than install fish ladders to let fish get over dams, and screens to protect young fish from the turbines, PacifiCorp is proposing the cheaper trap -and-truck method. That could be permanent or, perhaps, it could be just until it can be determined if the water quality is good enough for the salmon to thrive.

Therein lies another problem for the Upper Basin and that is why it needs to have an agreement in place that doesn't put the onus on the Klamath Reclamation Project to make the water and habitat suitable for salmon.

Whenever there's a problem on the river, the immediate focus goes to the Project, which uses some of the Klamath River water for irrigation. Most of it comes into the Project from Upper Klamath Lake through the A Canal at Klamath Falls.

The Project had about 188,000 acres under irrigation last year, returning the water to the river cleaner and colder than it was when it was taken out. The Project is below the lake, which means the primary impact it has on the water is to make it better. About 3 percent of the water is lost in that process.

It's hard to see how the Project could be to blame for water that salmon may not be able to flourish in, yet, given the history of attacks on the Project, that's likely where the political focus would be to solve salmon problems.

That's why the Project needs - deserves - protection in the relicensing process. Whether the salmon get past the dams in trucks or on ladders, the Klamath Project shouldn't be made responsible for making sure they do well once they get here.

Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial, which represents the view of the Herald and News editorial board.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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