Tear down the dams

On the Pacific Coast, in the region north and south of the mouth of the Klamath River, commercial salmon fleets sit idle because fish stocks are at their lowest levels in years. Regionally, the economic loss this year is estimated at nearly $20 million.

This is just the latest development in an environmental catastrophe on the Klamath that has had farmers, fishing companies and Indian tribes in Northern California and Oregon fighting each other because of declining fish populations. Spring chinook salmon runs on the Klamath are now at 8 percent of historic levels, and coho levels are at a mere 1 percent.

Recently, an opportunity has emerged to improve those runs dramatically, and it’s one all three of the above groups support. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is in the process of relicensing four small power dams on the Upper Klamath. If those dams were removed, it would free up 300 miles of invaluable salmon-spawning streams.

The dams are owned by PacifiCorps, an electricity generation company serving 1.6 million customers in six Western states. Together, the dams provide power for about 70,000 customers, less than 5 percent of PacifiCorps’ usage.

PacifiCorps says building fish ladders would make the plants unprofitable, so it has offered to truck salmon fry around the dams. But that’s the same discredited approach used at four dams on the Lower Snake River, in eastern Washington, where salmon runs continue to decline.

Federal fisheries agencies—as well as farmers, Indians and fishing companies—want the dams torn down. Yes, it will mean a loss of power, they acknowledge, but that power can be obtained elsewhere. Right now the important thing is to save the salmon. We agree.

The governors of California and Oregon are expected to hold a summit meeting next month to discuss this issue. They should put their considerable weight behind dam demolition.