Timidity will ruin Klamath moment

Timidity will ruin Klamath moment

Daily Astorian
September 28, 2006


“Take the easy way out” ought to be adopted as the official motto for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other federal agencies that operate at the political intersection between dams and salmon.

Dealing earlier this week with dams on the Klamath River, federal energy regulators said that pulling out two dams would make a big difference for troubled salmon runs. But they are recommending a different set of actions anyway.

The health of Klamath salmon runs has coastwide significance. Plagued by willful negligence and a process that favors politically connected irrigators, Klamath salmon must be avoided by fishermen. A resulting population collapse led to complete closure of the Pacific Ocean to salmon fishing this year off most of Oregon and Northern California at a cost of many millions of dollars.

Now, FERC is considering PacifiCorp’s proposal to operate the Klamath dams for the next 50 years. Instead of taking a serious look at restoring natural flow conditions on crucial portions of the river system, regulators are proposing much the same Band-Aid approach that has kept Columbia salmon hobbling along, neither extinct nor self-sustaining.

These steps, including artificially transporting migrating salmon around dams and engineering fixes that would cool and oxygenate the water, are more than token efforts but less than what may be required. At a total of $200 million or more, that may be considerably more expensive than simply removing the Iron Gate and Copco I dams.

FERC is behaving with predictably timidity in managing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to comprehensively restore much of the functionality of what was once one of the West Coast’s great salmon watersheds.

For its part, PacifiCorp risks appearing to be acting out of selfish financial interests, when it has a golden opportunity to demonstrate strong leadership and constructive corporate citizenship. As colorfully said by a spokesman for the California Coastal Conservancy, “It’s like the Western world is trying to restore Klamath salmon, and all that FERC and PacifiCorp can come up with is a Jacuzzi and a spruced-up campground.”

The Klamath makes the poor old Columbia look like a poster child for habitat restoration. It’s time for all interested parties to quit diddling around and waiting for extinction to make salmon recovery a moot issue.

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