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Supervisors reiterate opposition to dam removal

By ANDY MARTIN March 27, 2008 Siskiyou Daily News

YREKA - Siskiyou County supervisors announced on Tuesday they will vote on a resolution next week to oppose dam removal on the Klamath River and may pull out of the settlement agreement that divides water between fish and farmers. The agreement hinges on the condition that Pacific Power remove Iron Gate and the Copco dams.

’Siskiyou County opposes dam removal,’ said Bill Overman, chairman of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors.

The supervisors held a three-hour hearing Tuesday night at Miner’s Inn Convention Center to speak with state and federal agencies who were involved in the settlement agreement released in January. More than 200 people crammed the meeting area, with many standing because the room was full.

The agreement provides water for farmers in the Klamath Basin and fish in the Klamath River, but also calls for the removal of four Klamath River dams. Three of the dams are in Siskiyou County. The proposed settlement was reached by tribes, irrigators, environmental groups, state and federal agencies, and counties.

When questioned how the settlement agreement negotiators were selected, representatives from the Fish and Wildlife Service and California Fish and Game said Siskiyou County was not initially invited, but was able to get a seat at the table. Pacific Power was not included in the negotiations, although the proposed agreement calls for the company to tear down its dams.

The settlement agreement group was formed while Pacific Power had its application for dam re-licensing under consideration by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). As part of the re-licensing process, the Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, used its authority to require fish passage as a condition of a new license. Fish passage would include fish ladders to allow salmon to access the water above the dams into their historic range.

Fish passage is needed to help Klamath River salmon recover to historic levels, the agency said.

The cost of fish passage will likely be more than removing the dams, so the Fish and Wildlife Service is in negotiations with Pacific Power to discuss removing the dams. The negotiations are confidential, but Pacific Power and the Fish and Wildlife Service verified that they are under way.

Any decision by Pacific Power will be based on providing the lowest cost to its customers, its officials said Tuesday. When questioned about rates by supervisors, Pacific Power said costs to install fish ladders would be spread over the life of the license, or 50 years, while the cost to remove the dams would be passed on to customers at once.

Pacific Power opposes dam removal and fish passage, saying Iron Gate Hatchery, which is funded 80 percent by the power company, mitigates the loss of habitat above the dams.

Residents of Copco Lake were questioned during the hearing. They cited a report by the county assessor and Karuk Tribe that indicated property values would fall 50 percent here if the dams are removed.

The county also questioned an expert on sediment stacked behind the dams, who said the river bed below Iron Gate would rise as the material washed downstream. With much of the Klamath in canyon setting, this could cause some flooding.

Representatives from the Karuk and Yurok tribes said salmon are an important part of their heritage and culture, and dam removal is the best option for improving the fish runs. Troy Fletcher of the Yurok Tribe complained about comments from some audience members about Indian fishing practices.

Supervisors asked state and federal officials about Shasta and Scott river water use under the agreement, and funding to Siskiyou County to compensate for dam removal, but no clear answers were provided.

The Department of Fish and Game would request money from the legislature, an official said.

Tulelake irrigators defended the agreement, saying there were things they really disliked about it, but with constant lawsuits over water in the basin were seeking some kind of stability in irrigation for their crops and affordable power rates. Klamath Project irrigators have a lower power rate because they have to pump water up to seven times as water makes it way through a series of canals and locks.

During questions from the public, Copco residents were asked about recreation at the reservoir and the trophy rainbow trout fishing above it. The lake has a world-class perch fishery and bass tournaments, property owners said. The fire chief in Copco was asked about water from the lake used to fight fires, but the Karuk representative said helicopters are able to take water from the river as well, as they do near Happy Camp.

Costs to remove the dams could range from $80 million to $4 billion, supervisors were told. The unexpected costs to Siskiyou County were unclear.

When talking about removing themselves from the settlement agreement because of the dam removal stipulation and possibly losing a seat with the new agency that would be created to manage the Klamath water use, Overman said he found it outrageous the local government responsible for the largest area of the Klamath - 64 percent - could be excluded. The supervisors are responsible for the safety, health and welfare of the residents of the county and the settlement agreement would exclude parties who don’t agree with it, Overman said.

The supervisors will meet Tuesday to discuss the resolution being drafted this week by the county counsel regarding the dams and settlement agreement.
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