Studies: Dam Removal From River Doable

Studies: Dam Removal From River Doable

By Jeff Barnard
Associated Press
September 28, 2006


GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Removing four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River to help struggling salmon runs there would not be as expensive as feared, studies for a state agency show.

Indian tribes, salmon fishermen and conservation groups have been pressing Portland-based utility PacifiCorp to remove the dams to help the Klamath’s struggling salmon runs. The company is seeking to continue operating the dams.

The runs were so poor this year that federal fisheries managers practically shut down commercial salmon fishing off the West Coast to protect them.

The studies for the California State Coastal Conservancy found that removing the dams will not be as expensive as first believed because sediments built up behind the dams contain very low levels of toxic leftovers from gold mining, farming and plywood manufacturing.

The studies, submitted Tuesday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, also found that only about 5 percent of the 21 million cubic yards of sediment trapped behind the dams would wash out, and it all could be gone in one winter rainy season.

PacifiCorp is seeking a new 50-year operating license from FERC to operate the dams in southern Oregon and Northern California. The dams produce a combined 150 megawatts, enough electricity for 70,000 customers and 2 percent of PacifiCorp’s production.

PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme said any decision on removing the dams will take much more study. The utility has proposed trucking salmon around the dams rather than building fish ladders or removing them.

Steve Rothert, of conservation group American Rivers, said that an economic analysis by FERC found that when mandates by federal agencies for making the dams more fish-friendly are taken into account, PacifiCorp would lose $28.7 million a year operating the dams.

“If PacifiCorp is going to pursue the least-cost option for their customers, they should think about removing these dams,” he said.

Federal agencies told FERC earlier this year that PacifiCorp must install fish ladders, fish screens and reduce the amount of water diverted to turbines to help struggling returns of salmon.

However, under a new change in federal law, the utility has challenged the requirements. An administrative law judge is expected to issue a ruling this week.