The COVID-19 virus outbreak is affecting us all, whether we live in a big city or rural Siskiyou County. The economy is grinding to a halt and governments are planning a massive response to keep money flowing to small businesses and employees – the lifeblood of the entire economy.
It is through this lens that I encourage Klamath Basin residents to view KRRC’s dam removal and river restoration project – as an economic bright spot. Dam removal will bring local investments and opportunities, including an estimated 400 jobs through contracts and direct hiring and an estimated 1,400 additional jobs in support industries like hospitality and restaurants, all at a time when we will need it the most.
The dam removal and river restoration project is a fully-funded, pre-existing stimulus plan for the county. Our project will play a role in strengthening the basin’s economic health, both during and after this severe economic disruption, and the faster we can get started, the better.
I also want to address some common myths and false claims surrounding this job-creating project.
The four Klamath dams produce less than 2% of PacifiCorp’s power and PacifiCorp has announced that it is planning to retire about two-thirds of its coal units by 2030 and will replace the vast majority of that power with clean, renewable energy.
The dams provide extremely minor flood control benefits. After dam removal, state-of-the-art modeling indicates that flood elevations may be subject to an increase of six to 18 inches in a 100-year flood event, and only in the first 18 miles below the site of Iron Gate Dam. This nominal change will affect a few dozen homes below Iron Gate and KRRC is working with homeowners to mitigate these impacts.
Removal of the dams will not dry up the river. The Bureau of Reclamation controls water flows from Upper Klamath Lake and that, along with tributary flows, determines how much water is in the river, not the lower Klamath Dams. Klamath River flows can vary in the future based on Bureau of Reclamation operations and with weather and climate. But there is no reason to believe that the Bureau of Reclamation will suddenly decide to dewater or flood the river.
The water in the lower Klamath reservoirs is not diverted for irrigation. Water used for irrigated agriculture in the Klamath Basin comes from Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon, which is above our project site. No farmer or rancher draws a drop of water from the reservoirs we will be removing.
Water quality feeding into the Klamath River from Upper Klamath Lake is indeed poor during the late summer and fall, but the hydroelectric project reservoirs make water quality worse. The warm, slow-moving water conditions created by the reservoirs is fertile ground for toxic blue-green algae blooms that degrade river water quality through production of toxic microcystin and reduced dissolved oxygen. The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) released by the California Water Board acknowledges existing water quality problems stemming from the Upper Klamath Lake but concludes that this underlying problem does not diminish the water quality and fish population benefits from dam removal. Dam removal, along with ongoing watershed restoration projects to improve water quality in the Upper Klamath Lake and river basin, will improve water quality downstream.
Dam removal is in the best interest of the salmon. The DEIR finds that removal of the lower Klamath dams would increase habitat availability, restore a more natural flow regime, restore more natural seasonal water temperature variation, protect water quality, and reduce the likelihood of fish disease, all of which would have significant long term benefits for fall-run Chinook, spring-run Chinook, Coho, and steelhead.
KRRC is poised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a project in your back yard. We are a win-win for the local economy and the environment. It is for these reasons, and many more, that this dam removal project is in the best interest of the entire Klamath Basin community.