The fate of the salmon, and the dams, on the Klamath gets closer to resolution.
Dam ruling supports fish on Klamath
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PDT Friday, September 29, 2006
A federal judge ruled Wednesday there is ample evidence that salmon will benefit from improved access to the Klamath River, a decision that some believe may ultimately lead to removal of dams on the river.
The ruling came in an administrative hearing process over the relicensing of four Klamath River Dams owned by PacifiCorp, based in Portland.
At the hearings, held in Sacramento in August, PacifiCorp contested a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service order that fish ladders be installed on the dams. The company argued there isn't sufficient habitat to benefit the fish. It proposed instead a trap-and-haul operation, in which migrating fish would be trucked around the dams.
But the ruling by Administrative Law Judge Parlen McKenna, based in Alameda, supported the Fish and Wildlife Service on many key points.
The ruling does not specifically endorse fish ladders. But the judge concluded that ladders would open 58 miles of suitable habitat, benefiting salmon and other fish, and that fish are available to repopulate those areas. McKenna also concluded that current dam operations harm fish by restricting their movements and killing them in unscreened turbines.
The ruling means the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is likely to impose fish ladders as a condition of dam relicensing, said Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe, which owns land along the river.
But because building ladders is probably more expensive than simply demolishing the dams, he argues, the end result of the Mc-Kenna's ruling could be dam removal.
"The scientific argument for fish passage now is overwhelming," said Tucker. "This is a big boost for dam-removal efforts."
The Fish and Wildlife Service also cheered the ruling. Its demands for other improvements to benefit trout and lamprey in the river were also upheld by the judge.
"We look forward to starting the restoration of this amazing river so that future generations may enjoy this important and vital natural resource," Steve Thompson, Fish and Wildlife Service regional manager, said in a statement.
PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme, however, said the ruling will not necessarily lead to a fish ladder requirement, because the relicensing process must consider the cost to the company and its ratepayers.
The company plans to continue pushing for its trap-and-haul option, he said, along with a proposal to test salmon reintroduction in suitable areas above the dams.
"That said, we're disappointed with many findings of the judge, and we don't agree with them," Kvamme said. "The judge didn't have to address costs in his ruling, and he doesn't, but the next steps are designed to do that."
The Klamath River was once home to the third-biggest salmon runs on the West Coast. But dams, water diversions and pollution have reduced those runs to the brink of collapse.