Tear down the dams

Federal study concludes four Klamath dams should go

On Thursday, April 4, the U.S. Department of the Interior released the final environmental-impact statement on what would be the largest dam-removal project in American history, tearing down four dams on the Klamath River. The EIS is the most comprehensive study ever done on the river system, which begins in Oregon and flows through far Northern California on its way to the Pacific.

The report’s unequivocal conclusion: The dams should be removed.

Three of the dams, Iron Gate, Copco 1 and Copco 2, are in Siskiyou County; the fourth, J. C. Boyle, is in Oregon.

Removal wouldn’t be cheap or easy. Cost is estimated at $1 billion, and it would take 15 years. But that expense is less over time than it would cost to maintain the reservoirs and build federally mandated fish ladders, and in addition the deconstruction process would employ 4,600 people during those 15 years.

Removal would also allow, for the first time in more than a century, chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout access to 420 miles of historic habitat, one of the most fertile spawning areas in western North America. The study estimates that salmon populations on the Klamath, the third largest run in the West (after the Columbia and Sacramento rivers), would increase by around 80 percent.

Removing the dams would also resolve long-simmering water-related disputes among farmers, Indian tribes, environmentalists, commercial salmon harvesters and PacifiCorps Power Co., owner of the dams. Indeed, the fact that all of these groups were able to come up with an agreement they all support is testimony to its solidity and importance.

Now it’s up to Congress, which unfortunately is currently in a cutting, not a spending, mood. But it would be foolish for lawmakers not to get behind this extraordinary local solution to a problem that will only get worse if it’s not acted upon. Let Rep. Doug LaMalfa know you support removal of the Klamath dams.