Dam removal will do more harm than good
John W. Menke, Record Searchlight June 13, 2011. Dr. John W. Menke, an ecologist, lives in Scott Valley.
Removal of four Klamath River dams as proposed in the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement likely will result in undesirable and unintended consequences that collectively add up to negative cost-benefit outcomes using scientific, engineering, economic, and Native American cultural criteria. Surprisingly, the fishery faces the greatest risk of all, and the agencies responsible for promoting dam removal do not appear to care.
First and foremost, the dams provide flood protection (minimum 9-hour peak-flood delay) for small communities, residences, businesses, agency offices, bridges and other structures along the Klamath River downstream from Iron Gate Dam to the ocean. Additionally, the reservoirs provide local water supplies to helicopters used in fighting wildland fires. Reservoirs also provide sufficient water in the mainstem Klamath to support the fall run of chinook salmon. Property values adjacent to dam reservoirs have declined precipitously, and property tax reductions will reduce funds for Siskiyou County programs.
Second: In the case of the short-nosed sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake, the agencies used a flawed biological opinion based on one naive model analysis to cut off irrigation water to farmers, when the sucker was not limited by lake levels according to vast amounts of empirical data. It is premature to remove dams and hope that this action might help.
Third: The NOAA Fisheries component (ocean effects) of agency responsibility is never discussed. We all know ocean temperatures and recent record harvest of chinook salmon in Alaskan waters show ocean currents, temperature and food availability have a major effect on local fish populations.
Fourth: No dynamic simulation models have been developed to allow holistic evaluation of likely limiting factors to salmonid productivity. The 2008 National Research Council study “Hydrology, Ecology, and Fishes of the Klamath River Basin” stated that this process should precede any adaptive management program.
Fifth: The 20-year (1986-2006), $40,000,000 Klamath Act and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program efforts resulted in no improvement in salmon and steelhead numbers.
Sixth: The greatest risk to the Klamath River fishery resulting from dam removal is the release of natural, high-phosphorus sediments, and possibly toxic materials. This problem has developed over many years since dam construction while the dams have actively trapped the majority of such sediments and toxins, reducing risk to salmonids. Allowing flushing down river of the apparent 21 million cubic yards of such sediments and toxics could destroy an otherwise fine fishery.
Seventh: Agency plans for replacing more and more farmland with more wetlands in the Upper Klamath Basin is a very bad idea. Agriculture is the only natural means for use of excess phosphorus since it is taken up by crops and exported with food.
Eighth: Shasta Nation Native Americans expect to challenge disturbance of their burial grounds, which will happen if dam removal occurs.
Lastly, explorers noted when first visiting the Upper Klamath Basin that water quality was so undesirable that even their riding horses and pack animals would not drink.
The U.S. Department of Interior will hold a meeting Wednesday to update the public on studies being conducted for the interior secretary’s determination, due next year, of whether removing the Klamath River dams will restore salmon fisheries and serve the public interest.
When: 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Karuk Tribe Community Room, 39051 Highway 96, Orleans
For more information, visit klamathrestoration.gov.