Opinion: Remove dams, keep the fish
After the devastation wrought by the gold rush, the dawn of irrigation projects in the Klamath Basin inflicted a final lasting blow to the Salmon and Steelhead that depend on her free flowing waters for reproduction. Between the Klamath main-stem dam in Hornbrook, Dwinell Dam on the Shasta, and diversions that dewater and pollute both the Shasta and Scott, these fish have no place of cool water refuge to complete their life cycles. The healthy self-sustaining trout populations above Klamath main-stem dams offer a sure sign dam removal will provide access to miles of viable spawning and rearing habitat; if it works for trout it will work for salmon. Because Siskiyou County does not depend on Klamath main-stem dams for irrigation water the local economic impact will be small and far outweighed by the reemergence of the Klamath as The Steelhead Capital of the World.
The other viable non dam removal strategy for Salmon recovery, drastic and basin wide water use limitation and regulation in both the Shasta and Scott basins, would improve fish returns. Both basins contain very productive fish habitat that is either inaccessible or uninhabitable because of diversions that dewater the rivers and irrigation practices that pollute what water remains. Though likely a more viable method for salmon recovery the Shasta/Scott watershed restoration alternative to dam removal will be much more expensive, economically, in its impact on our local economy.
Regulatory enforcement in the Scott or Shasta basins focused on water quality necessary for fishery restoration will require fish passage at Dwinell, curtailed diversions to maintain minimum instream flows and pollution elimination through a sea change in traditional flood irrigation practices. A return of even moderately enhanced Salmon and Steelhead runs after main-stem dam removal provides a convincing argument for those that depend on unrestricted Scott and Shasta agricultural water against further economically costly water use restrictions. Siskiyou County, through its Natural Resources Policy, should support dam removal and pray the fish return, if, for no other reason, the alternative, a focus on agricultural water use in the Shasta and Scott Valleys, will have profound local economic impact.
Improved Klamath fish returns will benefit Siskiyou and California socially and economically. Once a destination for Salmon and Steelhead fishing, Siskiyou tourism declined with the fishery; the money spent by vacationing families will reinvigorate that once vibrant tourist economy. Restored fish runs provide an empowering opportunity to reverse the depression and poverty experienced by downriver tribal communities, specifically the Karuk and Yurok Tribes, whose amazingly rich culture evolved with the Salmon. Finally, self-sustaining wild Klamath Salmon are vital for general statewide economic and physical health; a dependable ocean fishery will sustain coastal fishing families and the eating public.