Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Klamath Dam Situation Is All Wet

Seeing as the Klamath Dam situation has been running in nearly news publication, I felt it was important to give my perspective as an actual resident that lives in a watershed that is part of the Klamath Basin. Our farm and ranch are in the Scott River Watershed which is a tributary to the Klamath, downstream of the dams. We were not invited to participate in the negotiations, even though we know that water from the Scott River will be included in the mitigation process resulting from the final decision. The Klamath Basin Total Maximum Daily Load that is currently being written by the North Coast Water Quality Control Board includes the Scott, Shasta and Trinity and clearly indicates that water from these rivers will be used to mitigate water quality issues in the Klamath.


Before the dams were built, the Klamath River flooded in the winter and spring and ran hot and low, dry in some years, during the summer and fall months. It originates in volcanic soils, with naturally occurring phosphorus content and higher water temperatures. As it flowed towards the Pacific Ocean, the Shasta, Scott and Trinity rivers entered the system and provided colder and cleaner water. However, during the summer months, these rivers also ran low and warm and sometimes, in summer months, dried up.  Historical journals from the 1800's indicate that the water in the Klamath was not even fit for survey parties horses to drink during the summer months.

Once the four dams were built, flows were managed, providing clean, green power to more than 75,000 people in Southern Oregon and Northern California. The Klamath began to run for the entire year, although lower in the late summer and fall, it has not “dried up.” Irrigation water was provided to family farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin who were promised that water in Federal contracts tied to the land that they homesteaded. Additionally, new enterprises were started along the Klamath, including rafting, fishing and rental cabins, not to mention an increase in property values due to the water front advantage.

Now, with the listing of the Coho salmon as threatened, several groups have pushed to have the dams removed to allow for fish passage and sued to have Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL’s) established and mitigated for on the Klamath.

The current situation looks like this:

1. Upper basin farmers and ranchers are split in their support of dam removal, as some have received “guarantees” post removal and others, who are not project irrigators, have not received any guarantees.

2. Mid basin farmers and ranchers are opposed to dam removal, fearing their water rights will be threatened in an effort to mitigate the poor water quality resulting in removal.

3. Tribes are split in their support of dam removal. Some are focusing only returning the river to its original state, while others recognize that the river is actually healthier now, than it was pre-dams.

4. Fishermen are split in their support for dam removal as well. Ultimately, and understandably, they want fish populations to improve to allow them to earn a living.

5. PacifiCorp needed to relicense their operating permits for running the power generation plants, which opened up the utility to demands from a multitude of interests. Under coercion, PacifiCorp decided that removing dams would be cheaper for them and their ratepayers than trying to engineer projects that would be more fish friendly, and allow passage.

6. Power consumers in Northern California have seen a 30% + increase in their rates since Pacific Corp began preparing to pay for removal. This has been especially felt by the agricultural community that utilizes pumps for irrigation in a year that has seen the value of all commodities drop.

Complete removal of the four dams in the Klamath River is a case of radical environmental groups using the Endangered Species Act, along with the Clean Water Act, to extort and coerce in order to undue progress. It will send a dangerous message and potentially set a dangerous precedent, threatening infrastructure, private property rights and affordable power. We are in a time where more water storage is needed, green power is preferred and cost effective power is needed.

It is estimated that it will cost $300 million dollars to mitigate water quality issues up to the time that the dams are removed. It is also estimated that it will cost $750 million dollars to remove the dams, followed by an estimated $500 million dollars to mitigate quality issues after the dams have been removed. This adds up to an estimated $1.5 Billion dollar price tag, not including losses to property values, agricultural production, loss in tourism and county tax revenue.

Common sense would direct us to modify the dams to allow for fish passage, maintain green power generation capabilities, and provide water to farmers and ranchers. What has happened to balance and moderation?

If the direction that extreme environmental groups and agencies at the State and Federal level are headed, unchecked by any sense of reason or oversight, is not changed, we shall surely find ourselves in a hole we are unable to climb out of.

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About Me

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Jeff Fowle is a fourth generation family farmer and rancher from Etna, California. He and his wife Erin and son Kyle raise registered Angus cattle, Percheron draft horses, warmbloods, alfalfa and alfalfa-grass hay. They also start and train horses for riding, jumping, and driving. Their family run ranch has incorporated many environmentally beneficial and water efficient technologies and management strategies. Jeff attended college at Colorado State University for two years and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for four and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science. Following college, he worked in Washington State for a year as a herdsman for BB Cattle Company and then returned to Etna, California in 1995 to own and operate KK Bar Ranch and Siskiyou Percherons. The latter was started by his grandfather, Clarence Dudley, who devoted much of his time to the Percheron Horse Association of America, specifically to developing their youth education program.