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Studies released by a collection of conservation groups suggest that the option of removing one or more of the five mainstream dams on the Klamath River, Calif. may be more cost effective and technically viable than previously thought. In line with the 2003 National Academy of Sciences' recommendation to study the removal of Klamath River dams, American Rivers, California Trout, Friends of the River, Trout Unlimited, and World Wildlife Fund (conservation groups) and the Klamath River Inter-Tribal Fish and Water Commission engaged experts to evaluate certain costs and effects of removing four dams, Iron Gate, Copco 1 and 2, and JC Boyle.
PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Scottish Power, owns five dams on the Klamath River that block salmon and steelhead from reaching more than 350 miles of their historic habitat. The four lowest dams generate power but provide no flood control or water supply benefits. They have contributed to a 90 percent decline in salmon populations and add to degraded water quality far downstream of the dams. PacifiCorp is seeking a new 30-50 year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to operate its hydropower project.
"Our goal is the recovery of native fish populations in the Klamath River basin. One cornerstone for reaching this goal is the reintroduction of salmon and steelhead to the 350 miles of habitat blocked by PacifiCorp's dams," said Brian Barr of World Wildlife Fund.
Conservation groups have worked collaboratively for the last four years with PacifiCorp, Native American tribes and other stakeholders to gather information to analyze alternatives for improving fish populations, water quality and other resources impacted by the dams. Although PacifiCorp acknowledges the need to restore salmon, the Company did not propose restoring salmon and steelhead passage in its 7,000-page license application. Several fish passage options have been discussed during the relicensing proceeding, including constructing ladders, hauling fish around the dams in trucks, and removing dams. Unlike the other fish passage options, however, PacifiCorp refuses to study dam removal in detail. The studies released today by conservation groups analyze the cost of deconstructing the dams, the economic value of foregone power generation, and the effects of releasing stored sediments to the lower river.
"The Klamath dams are pretty old and these studies suggest that they may not produce enough juice to pay off the investment that will be necessary to secure a new license," said Steve Rothert with American Rivers. "PacifiCorp has a responsibility to its shareholders and customers to examine this scenario for itself."
"We hope these studies will shed some light on restoration opportunities in the Klamath River and provide a basis for fact-based decisions on these important issues," said Chuck Bonham of Trout Unlimited.
A principal concern of dam removal is the management of sediments built up in the reservoirs. "Our studies show that the Klamath River's flow would quickly carry the sediment to the ocean. In a matter of months after removal, it would be difficult to notice a difference in the lower river," said Steve Rothert of American Rivers. Because information gathered to date suggests it would be possible to allow the river to carry the sediment downstream, the excavation and disposal of reservoir sedimenta costly aspect of dam removalwould be eliminated.
"Our engineering study indicates the four lowest dams could be dismantled and safely disposed of for less than $40 million. By contrast, the construction of fish ladders and fish screens at those same four dams could cost up to $150 million," said Curtis Knight of California Trout.
The Klamath River dams supply less than 1 percent of PacifiCorp's customer demand, and the California Energy Commission has concluded that project power could easily be replaced by existing and planned power plants in the area.
The study on foregone power generation estimates the annual value of Klamath hydropower is approximately $21 million currently. PacifiCorp's license application states it would cost $23 million per year to produce power on the Klamath under the Company's proposed plan, which does not include fish passage facilities. NOAA Fisheries has indicated it may require fish ladders to be constructed, which could increase costs to $30 million per year or more. According to PacifiCorp estimates, the cost of replacing its hydro project with wind power would cost less than $27 million per year.
"We do not take the issue of dam removal lightlywe recognize that people have interests in these dams that must be addressed. We conducted these studies because we believe citizens are entitled to informed choices from decision makers," said Curtis Knight of California Trout.
The FERC is starting an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to analyze the impacts of PacifiCorp's dams. In this Environmental Impact Statement, FERC will study alternatives to PacifiCorp's proposal to leave all dams in the river without providing fish passage for salmon and steelhead. Conservation groups will submit the three commissioned studies to FERC this week to improve the understanding of one of the alternatives already identified by FERC for detailed analysisthe decommissioning and removal of at least some Klamath River dams and facilities.
Trout Unlimited's Chuck Bonham said, "Even though the backdrop for the relicensing of these dams may be the most contentious river basin in the West, it need not be that way going forward. We stand firm in our belief that the impacts these dams cause to salmon and steelhead are best resolved by bringing the basin's stakeholders together to forge a solution."