[env-trinity] U.S. Orders Modification of Klamath River Dams

Josh Allen jallen at trinitycounty.org
Wed Jan 31 16:29:28 PST 2007


U.S. Orders Modification of Klamath River Dams


Removal May Prove More Cost-Effective


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/30/AR200701
3001757.html?nav=hcmodule
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/30/AR20070
13001757.html?nav=hcmodule>  


By Blaine Harden
<http://projects.washingtonpost.com/staff/email/blaine+harden/> 

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007; Page A03

SEATTLE, Jan. 30 -- In a decision that could trigger the largest
dam-removal project in world history, the federal government said today
that four hydroelectric dams on the troubled Klamath River must undergo
costly modifications to allow passage for salmon.

Since modifying the aging dams would cost an estimated $300 million,
removing them has suddenly become a much more plausible -- and
considerably cheaper -- option for their owner, PacifiCorp, a company
owned by Warren E. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

 

 
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The Klamath River in southwestern Oregon and Northern California was
once the third most productive salmon fishery on the West Coast. (By
Blaine Harden -- The Washington Post) 

 




 

Removing the dams would cost $101 million less than modifying them as
ordered by federal agencies, according to a recent report written for
the California Energy Commission.

Although a number of dams across the United States and around the world
have been removed or scheduled for removal in recent years, federal
officials say they know of no other river in the world for which the
removal of four hydroelectric dams is under review.

If the dams were removed, the Klamath, which straddles the
Oregon-California border, has extraordinary potential to rebound as a
major salmon resource, according to fish biologists and regional
officials. They say a revival could dramatically improve commercial and
sport fisheries along the coasts of Oregon and Northern California.

The Klamath once supported the third-largest runs of salmon on the West
Coast. But in the more than eight decades since it was dammed, it has
become one of the most fought-over rivers in the West -- with massive
fish kills, blooms of algae, angry irrigators, litigious
environmentalists and Indian tribes whose diet and culture have been
substantially damaged by the disappearance of salmon. Biologists blame
the dams as a contributing factor to the near shutdown last summer of
commercial salmon fishing along 700 miles of the Oregon-California
coastline.

The four dams produce electricity for about 70,000 customers. The power
is worth about $29 million a year, according to the California Energy
Commission.

"The Klamath is a degraded system, but it is uniquely restorable," said
David Diamond, an analyst with the Interior Department. "These dams are
the only barriers to fish passage from the headwaters to the Pacific.
The watershed is 80 percent under federal ownership and it doesn't have
major cities or other development that prevents the return of healthy
salmon runs."

For years, pressure to remove the four Klamath dams has come from Indian
tribes, conservation groups and commercial fishermen. But in a move that
surprised many environmentalists, the Bush administration -- through the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine
Fisheries Service -- concluded last year that dam removal would be best
for salmon.

The issue has been forced on PacifiCorp because federal licenses for the
dams, the oldest of which was completed in 1918, are up for renewal. The
Portland, Ore., power company had proposed that it be allowed to trap
and haul salmon around its dams as a way to revive the river's salmon
fishery.

But the joint announcement by the Interior Department and NOAA rejects
that proposal. As a necessary condition for obtaining a new federal
license, they said that PacifiCorp must build costly fish ladders and
other fish-passage devices at each of the dams on the Klamath.

"We are disappointed," said Dave Kvamme, a spokesman for PacifiCorp. "We
are looking for an outcome that best serves our customers. We are going
to have to look at costs and risks."

In three other license-renewal cases, PacifiCorp has agreed to remove
dams from Western rivers. The company, too, has participated for more
than two years in confidential negotiations with other Klamath River
stakeholders in what to do about reviving the health of the river.

"We have never ruled out dam removal as one potential outcome," Kvamme
said, while adding that his company urgently needs to create more
electricity generation and regards the dams as "an extremely valuable
resource."

Buffett, whose holdings include PacifiCorp, is a major shareholder in
The Washington Post.

In the six Western states where PacifiCorp sells electricity, the
company would need to secure the approval of public utility commissions
to raise electricity rates to recover the cost of demolishing or
modifying the Klamath dams.

Because removing the dams would be cheaper than modifying them, there
will be strong pressure on PacifiCorp from the commissions to get rid of
them, said Steve Rothert, director of the California field office of
American Rivers, an environmental group involved in negotiations over
the dams.

"It is in their ratepayers' interest to remove the dams and replace the
power," Rothert said.

Kvamme said PacifiCorp has not yet determined whether modifying the dams
would be less expensive in the long run than taking them out.

 

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