DON’T GIVE UP TRYING TO SAVE THE DAMS. IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN THE FISH.

The Septuagenarian Speaks – Published February 9, 2021, Siskiyou Daily News and Mount Shasta Area Newspapers

It’s been almost a year since my last rant against the proposal to remove four dams along the Klamath River. My attention was recently again drawn to that topic on December 14, when the Siskiyou County Water Users Association made a presentation to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, asking the Board to adopt a resolution nominating an area called the Ancient Beswick Forest and Cultural Area for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places The declared reason for requesting the inclusion of the Area was “to provide for the protection of the Area’s resources now and into the future for the citizens of Siskiyou County and the Nation.” The proposed Area includes the reservoirs created by the Iron Gate dam and the two Copco dams, all situated in Siskiyou County. The Board heard the presentation and took it under advisement, referring it to the county’s administrative staff and attorney for analysis. The primary objective of the measure is to give the designated area, and the dams situated therein, some protection from the irrevocable and potentially disastrous impact on our county which could result from the dam demolition project presently advocated by special interests.

Over the past four years I have written seven columns for the Siskiyou Daily News outlining the many reasons why I believe taking out the dams is a bad idea, not just for Siskiyou County, but for people everywhere who are concerned about climate change, drought, preservation of water resources, fire suppression, and greenhouse gas emissions.

I’ve talked about the dams’ benefits, including generation of electric power in a manner that doesn’t burn fossil fuels or pollute the atmosphere, facilitation of flood control, and creation of some great recreational facilities. Entire communities have been established around the reservoirs created by the dams. People have invested their life savings into buying property and building lake-front homes. These are just a few reasons why dam removal is a bad idea.

Yet the bandwagon to yank out four dams, which do what they were designed to do, still persists. Everyone is on the bandwagon; everyone, that is, except for the majority of those of us who actually live here in the California and Oregon counties where the dams are located.

The Klamath River does have problems, but anyone who thinks that the river’s ills will miraculously go away once the dams are gone, will be sadly disappointed.  Poor and sporadic salmon and steelhead runs, dying fish, poor water quality, and algae existed before the dams were there, and they will still exist after they are gone. Since at least 1850, the river quality and fishery haven’t just been impacted by the dams (if at all), but also by many other factors, such as hydraulic mining (no longer legal), overfishing in the Pacific Ocean, intensive water diversions, erosion caused by roads, climate change, logging, floods, agricultural activities, forest fires, ocean atmosphere climate variability, and nutrients in the water caused naturally by the area’s volcanic origins, just to name a few.

The Klamath River reservoirs have become a part of Siskiyou County’s wonderfully diverse beauty and landscape, and are important to its recreation-based tourism, a mainstay of our struggling economy.

It’s pretty obvious that my rantings in the SDN have had little if any impact on what seems to be the foregone conclusion that the dams will be taken out. Over the years the Board of Supervisors has courageously taken steps to avert the removal of the dams, an important county resource. The voters of the two counties directly affected by dam removal, Siskiyou County and Oregon’s Klamath County, have overwhelmingly expressed opposition to their removal. None of these things appear to have made a difference. The powerful forces from Washington, D.C., Sacramento, and Salem, and from some Indian tribes, appear to have the clout to overcome any opposition that the local residents, who are most deeply affected, can muster.

I’m glad I’m not a County Supervisor these days. They have huge responsibility but with limited resources to do their job. I can understand why they may have some hesitation about expending county funds and resources to oppose dam removal, seemingly inevitable, when such resources are limited. The Board must allocate its resources for the best interests of the county. But they shouldn’t give up without a fight. It’s too important for the county. The proposed resolution under consideration, which recommends that the Ancient Beswick Forest and Cultural Area be considered for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, is one way the Board can make a statement about the issue without a significant expenditure of county funds. The ultimate decision, of course, is up to the California and Federal Offices of Historic Places, and is beyond the county’s control, but at least it is a demonstration that the county government has the resolve to fight to defeat a proposal harmful to its citizens. But I would go further and encourage our supervisors to continue to put county resources on the line in the future. It’s that important. For example, there are still several steps in the Federal Energy Regulation Commission process before the dam removal proponents and KRRC, the corporation formed to remove the dams, can proceed. The draft Environmental Impact Report for the project originally scheduled to be issued in February has now been delayed a month or more and will likely be issued late March. That will trigger a sixty-day period for public comment before it is finalized. I would encourage the Board to aggressively participate in the EIR process, even if it is costly to do so. The potential environmental devastation caused by release of sediment down the river is difficult to imagine or quantify, and has been consistently understated by KRRC since the beginning of its involvement in the project. And that is only a portion of the potential environmental detriment.

The Water Users’ presentation to the board pointed out some environmental concerns not discussed much until now. The primary focus has been on the fish, specifically salmon. KRRC’s claim is that the decline in anadromous fish population is caused because of the dams’ alleged prevention of the fish from travelling further upriver to spawn, although there is considerable evidence that other natural impediments historically prevented them from doing that. But, as the Water Users’ presentation pointed out, it’s about more than just the fish. The presentation included a map of the proposed Ancient Beswick Forest and Cultural Area. The map contains a legend that is a “Biome Resource Classifications Index.” When I first saw the map, I wasn’t familiar with the term “biome,” and sought to learn its definition. The National Geographic Society defines a “biome” as “a large area characterized by its vegetation, soil, climate, and wildlife.” The map submitted to the Board depicts 26 biomes along the river within the proposed Area and identifies 26 wildlife species associated with those biomes. Some examples are Canada Goose, Sandpiper, Western Pond Turtle, and Crayfish, to name just a few. Not all of the 26 species of wildlife on the list depend on the reservoirs to flourish, but some do. My point is that there should be more to the conversation than just the fish, a point clearly made by the Water Users’ presentation.

I urge the members of the Board of Supervisors, in carrying out their difficult task of stewardship of the resources under their control, to consider the importance of the dams to the citizens of our county.

Bob Kaster
Yreka, California

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