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AW Weighs in on Klamath River (OR/CA)

Posted: 12/11/2006
By: Thomas O'Keefe

This past fall the Federal Energy Reglatory Commission (FERC) released their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the Klamath River Hydroelectric Project owned by PacifCorp. The previous license for this project expired in February 2006 and FERC is in the process of determining if a new license to operate this project is in the public interest.

The primary issue on this river is the state of declining salmon runs and the devastating impact of four dams operated by PacifiCorp that block all upstream fish passage. The Klamath also supports incredible recreational opportunities including a vibrant commercial rafting industry that benefits from hydropower operations. AW has been an active stakeholder working collaboratively with PacifiCorp to design the whitewater flow study that was conducted in September 2002 and we have provided comments at several points in the process

AW staff carefully evaluated information presented in the DEIS. After reviewing the data provided we have joined many other stakeholders and agencies in concluding that removal of the lower dams–Iron Gate and Copco 1–makes sense. The cost of bringing these dams up to modern safety and environmental standards does not justify their continued operation. Like many other stakeholders we also believe that removal of Copco 2 and J.C. Boyle dams could provide a unique opportunity to restore the Klamath River. Incredibly however, FERC did not evaluate this alternative of removing all four dams. Thousands of citizens, public agencies, elected officials, and many other stakeholders have called for removal of all four dams and we believe there is strong public interest in evaluating this alternative. In comments provided by NOAA Fisheries, the agency concluded that FERC violated federal law requiring them to analyze “a full range of alternatives,” which includes removing all four dams.

Removal of the dams on the Klamath River could negatively impact current recreational opportunities that now benefit due to peaking operations of the J.C. Boyle dam. In peaking operations river flows are held back during the evening and then released during the day when power demand is greatest. These higher flows during the day are within a range that provides ideal whitewater boating opportunities throughout the summer. During the morning and evening, flows are reduced providing ideal fishing opportunities. The fishing and boating opportunities provided are regionally significant, support several local businesses, and are important to the local economy of the rural community. In fact whitewater boating is recognized as an Outstandingly Remarkable Value on this stretch of river that is federally designated Wild and Scenic.

We believe however that removal of the dams has the potential to provide a new set of recreational opportunities. Demand for multi-day river trips in the West is incredibly high as evidenced by the highly competitive permit systems on the majority of the region's rivers. Removing the dams could provide a new opportunity for a highly desired multi-day experience. In addition the long-term economic benefits of a restored salmon fishery on the Klamath would be significant. On balance we see the opportunity for a different recreational opportunity that would compensate for the loss of existing opportunities. However, FERC has made it incredibly difficult to evaluate the trade-offs by not providing a full evaluation. We have formally requested FERC to initiate a full evaluation of removing all four dams and hope to have an opportunity to provide additional comment assuming such an alternative is released.

As FERC continues its review and now considers all the public comment that was provided, settlement disucssions continue on a parallel track to the relicensing. Despite participation by public agencies in the settlement discussions some parties, including whitewater outfitters, have been excluded from the discussions. We are deeply concerned with this approach that excludes parties with a clear interest in the outcome from an opportunity at meaningful participation in the process. The Klamath River has long suffered the impacts of these dams. Restoring the river will require bold steps and removing all four dams could be the action that is required. FERC has a responsibility to provide an open public review of the full range of alternatives so all stakeholders have an opportunity to have a meaningful say in the final determination.

We encourage our members and affiliate clubs to contact us regarding their thoughts and feedback on this project.

Read AW's full comments on the DEIS, filed December 1, 2006

Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
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American Whitewater supports restoration of the Klamath River for the benefit of salmon while providing appropriate opportunities for whitewater recreation.

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