The guest editorial “Dam removal report sparks hope for Klamath Basin Ag” by Klamath Renewal Corporation’s Dave Meurer in the March 13 H&N edition promotes the idea that removing four of PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams will “reduce or eliminate the biological necessity for spring dilution flows by restoring more natural river flows.”
According to Meurer, that “could” free up up to 50,000 acre feet of water for federal irrigation; he points to the peer review comments of “scientists” in support of that view.
The problem is that removing the four dams will not restore natural river flows. Those flows are, for the most part, controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation which will continue to divert Klamath River water to the Rogue Basin and for federal irrigation in the Upper Klamath and Lost River Basins.
Streams in the dam removal or Cascade Canyon reach are small compared to total Klamath flows and may not add enough high winter flow to scour out the salmon disease host from river gravels.
Water quality, which is the other cause of salmon disease outbreaks in the Klamath River, is likely to remain just as bad or nearly so because a fifth PacifiCorp Klamath River dam — Keno — and its reservoir will not be removed but rather will be transferred to the US Bureau of Reclamation.
That reservoir receives all of the Klamath Irrigation Project’s highly polluted wastewater which should be treated to remove the pollution before it is discharged to our River..but is not treated at all.
Some will counter that it is fisheries biologists who have speculated that removing the dams will fix the Klamath’s salmon disease problem thereby freeing up 50,000 acre feet of water for federal irrigation.
However, several of those biologists have spent their careers working to get the dams out and are highly invested in the idea that dam removal will significantly improve conditions for salmon in our River.
While I hope those biologists are correct, I also take into account that a career investment in dam removal has likely influenced their opinions as scientists.
While we can all hope that Dave Muerer and those biologists are correct, we ought not to count on it. While the dams exacerbate the conditions killing our salmon, the main cause by far for those conditions is agricultural pollution in the Upper Basin, Shasta and Scott.
Until that pollution is effectively regulated and controlled, which is not yet taking place, the Klamath will remain a sick river.
— Felice Pace of Klamath, Calif., has lived in the Klamath River Basin since 1976 and has been an activist for Klamath Salmon and water quality restoration since 1985. He currently serves as Water Chair for the North Group Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club. This opinion, however, is his own.