Stakeholder Negotiation Leads to Deal to Remove Four Salmon-killing Dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California

Congratulations to the twenty-six negotiating parties – including tribal people, farmers, fishermen, conservation groups, state and federal governments – who recently reached an agreement to remove four dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon. When the Klamath dams come down, it will be the biggest dam removal project the world has ever seen.

Iron Gate Dam in Norther California
Iron Gate Dam in Northern California

The Klamath River, like the Columbia-Snake, has been the subject of an intense debate over how we manage our rivers in the face of competing demands. In this case, for irrigation for farms, for the generation of electricity, and for critical habitat for salmon and other fish and wildlife, and the businesses, communities, and cultures that depend upon them.

The Klamath River area is the ancestral home for a number of tribes, including the Hoopa and Yurok, who revere salmon as a healthy, traditional food and a powerful inspiration for their community and culture. It is today also the home of a numerous endangered fish, and it was the extremely depressed adult salmon returns that triggered a multi-year fishing closure off the coast of California and Oregon several years ago. It was also the scene of political meddling by then-Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004, when too much water was allocated to farmers, leaving too little water in the river that resulted in a massive die-off of 35,000 adult salmon that perished before they reached their spawning gravels.

Years of litigation and controversy politicized science and most recently, diverse stakeholder negotiations, have led to a tentative deal that includes the removal of the Klamath River’s most lethal salmon-killing dams. While a number of critical steps remain to be taken, and despite the fact that dam removal is not expected to commence before 2020, this deal is an encouraging sign of what can occur when people sit down together to face and resolve common problems.

After nearly two decades of litigation and controversy and debate, it is time for the same type of negotiation process to resolve the salmon-energy-transportation issues in the Columbia-Snake River basin. Unfortunately, in its first opportunity to make progress for salmon and rivers and communities affected by the knot of problems in the Columbia Basin, the Obama Administration struck out. Judge Redden will be coming up to bat next. Stay tuned!

One thought on “Stakeholder Negotiation Leads to Deal to Remove Four Salmon-killing Dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California

  1. Irongate Dam on the Klamath, MUST STAY and SHOULD STAY. Three of them can go, I agree with that, but Irongate must stay. Add 200 feet or as much as possible on top of the existing dam, or build the correct dam in the area just west of the existing dam to store the winter run off, then the water can be released COLD, and the rest of the Klamath River can be saved. Not to mention the extra water and Hydro Electric generation (MODERN, Pacific Corp. could get rid of the 1890`s pelton wheels they have now). The Dams are broken so lets fix them for the benefit of all, not just a few .
    QUIT RUNNING THE 70 DEGREE PLUS WATER DOWN THE RIVER @ 2000 fps when nature only intended less than half of that. Low water levels when it is hot is needed to naturally control disease. The sun kills and controls the diseases. When the water is low, the moss is exposed to sunlight and kills the copipods and bacteria the way the sun kills bacteria on buzzards wings. You see the Cormorants doing it too, and it stops diseases such as what happened in 2002, (which was BIOLOGICAL OPINION by the way), Dr. Scott Foot of the USF&W Service did studies to prove that high water levels was not in the best interests of the River and that’s a fact. Along with almost fifteen years of experience working on the Klamath and 50 some years living here is how I know, there is no rocket science involved here folks. Chinooks need to be wet, with cool water, but biological opinion has spread disease all the way down the Klamath system with hot high flows, it (most diseases) used to end somewhere around Beaver Cr. with a higher dam and more water impounded , there would be a much larger cold water pool. You could run 38-40 degree or cooler water down stream in the hot months and spill or blend water in the winter months,still have enough water for a bigger Hatchery and wipe out all the diseases. There are Columnaris, copipods, ich, etc. They could not survive in the cold water or at least they could be kept dormant. In less than 5 years 178 miles or so of the Klamath River could be saved and would look like the Smith River, the McCloud River, or better. It would be a world class fishery again. Don’t believe me? Go over to McCloud Dam and see where the water comes from there. The McCloud is a very much revered world class fishery, (I fished every inch of it from the Village to the Millionaires Club when Pinkerton guards still road horseback on patrol for Mr. Hearst. 5 lb Browns & double digit bows on EVERY cast before the dam was built) this is just the first reason. There are many more not just what I have wrote here.
    The Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, (derived from Russian чавыча), is a species of anadromous fish in the salmon family and is the family’s largest member. It is a Pacific Ocean salmon and is variously known as the king salmon, tyee salmon, Columbia River salmon, black salmon, chub salmon, hook bill salmon, winter salmon, Spring Salmon, Quinnat Salmon and blackmouth. Chinook salmon are typically divided into “races” with “spring Chinook”, “summer Chinook”, and “fall Chinook” being most common. Races are determined by the timing of adult entry into fresh water. The Spring run that used to and I stress used to exist in the Klamath have been extinct since the middle 1980`s. They were the fish that would have went up the river, if any ever did, in the summer before the river temps got to high. The winter run, also noted as the Black run or Black Salmon, were only known to be in the Sacramento System, so there are no natural stocks to start with. Anything else brought in from other drainage to restock the Klamath River would just be a hatchery fish, which is what there is now. So ramp the Hatchery up, don’t cut back in production like what has been happening,( All you Commercial fisherman out there and businesses that depend on them that signed on w/dam removal don’t believe a word you’ve been told. There’s less fish out there by design) build more Hatcheries like Alaska is doing to supply & support their fisheries, start the down river ponding program back up along with Fall Creek Hatchery. Humboldt Co. Board of Supervisors Drafted a Letter to CDFG on 03/25/2003 declaring devastation to the fisheries, but the Department closed down Fall Cr. and cut back anyway, fully aware of the consequences.
    The first few of the Fall Chinook that arrive there (Irongate Hatchery), at the End of September, are stressed and weak due to high water temps and flows. If you think that those fish are going to swim another 300 miles, and spawn in the Sprauge or Williamson Rivers, you’re dead wrong. Most salmon usually die at the Irongate Hatchery before they are all spawned, which is OK, because that’s just the beginning of the run and there are few fish. They keep coming in bigger numbers until they peak and then they taper back down to nothing. A spectrum of the run needs to be retained so fish don’t return all at one time, and a fair representation of all the fish is retained, and are spread out over a 5-6 wk. period or so they can all have a chance to spawn , The staff of IGH do an excellent job of mimicking nature and do exactly as they are supposed to do.
    Just about all the information gathered by USF&W and the State Of Oregon, Radio Telemetry,Trap efficiencies numbers, etc. have been acquired by the use of Hatchery Fish, so any figures that they have are SKEWED to create the result that they wanted. This is true, Irongate Hatchery has provided hundreds of thousands of fish both yearlings and smolts to the USF&W service and the State of Oregon and others. Both Fall Chinook and (HA HA) Rare endangered Coho have been supplied and used, provided for the sake of science. There are no native Chinook left that far up the system, although, the Scott and Salmon Rivers, along with some of their Tributaries do have “wild fish, both Spring and Summer run but not very many of them remain”, there has been too much interaction between the Hatchery and Bogus Cr. Shasta River Fish over the last one hundred years Plus. To claim there are any pure wild and natural native fish that far up would be very questionable.
    These Fish(Klamath Summer and Fall Chinook) have been raised at least Five Different Hatcheries over the years, maybe more. The USF&W stopped all the fish at the Klamathon racks just East of Hornbrook in the early 1900`s. I know some eggs went to Sission Hatchery and Fall Cr. Hatchery. Who knows exactly where all those eggs were taken? I don’t know. Some could have been taken to Baird Hatchery on the McCloud before Shasta dam was built, but that’s just speculation on my part. In those days eggs were transported great distances. For instance, eggs from the McCloud strain of rainbows were sold to the Government of Chile and taken to Belize (World class fishery exists there now because of it). Eggs taken were also transported to and from Fall Creek Hatchery by horse and wagon, then trucks were used until the Railroad was built about 1917. Enough History?
    Now lets say the dams did come out. What in the world are they going to do with the MILLIONS and I do mean MILLIONS of warm water fish in the reservoirs now? They couldn’t just let the voracious little feeders go down stream, or up stream, perch, bluegills, bass, catfish, black crappie, and punkinseed just to name a few. They would gobble up the fry faster than they could hatch. They would have to get rid of them somehow, ROTONONE would do it but look at Lake Davis and Diamond Lake. California poisoning the lakes to kill millions of fish sounds dumb enough for them. Kill millions of fish to save a few Hatchery fish that nobody wants anyway or else they wouldn’t want to take the dams out> Not to mention the collateral damage to millions of fresh water mussels, and crayfish. Hundreds, and probably thousands of Ospreys, Gold and Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, Black Crowned Nite Herons, Green Herons, Raccoons, Turtles, Deer, possums, Squirrels, Mountain Lions and Bobcats. Just to name a few. From eating poisoned fish, drinking poisoned water, and starvation. Every winter when the Refuges freeze over the Eagles come to Irongate and Copco to feed. Every summer the Ospreys and Eagles both Bald and Golden return to raise their young. So just when are these actions (dam removal, restoration, etc) supposed to take place?
    Siskiyou County, couldn’t you imagine having one of the largest freshwater lakes West of the Mississippi? LOOK at the possibility’s for all that water. Stand in downtown Dorris and look South and what do you see? Mt. Shasta. Water could very easily gotten there via one little pipe line, canal, or tunnel to the south. You get the SAME view from Klamath Falls, or better yet through the Shasta valley. Don’t think for a second that Oregon likes letting any water run into California. That’s right, this fight is not at all about fish OK? So now the truth is out friends and neighbors. Water and the almighty dollar. Now ask yourself why only 4 dams? There are 6. What about Link River and Keno?? They are in Oregon.
    If this is about fish and the health of the river, poppy cock, all the accounts of the early fur trader’s and explorer’s will speak for themselves. Here’s the facts.
    Upper Klamath Lake (sometimes called Klamath Lake) is a large, shallow freshwater lake east of the Cascade Range in south central Oregon in the United States. The largest freshwater body in Oregon, it is approximately 20 mi (32 km) long and 8 mi (12.9 km) wide and extends northwest from the city of Klamath Falls. It sits at an elevation of 4140 ft (1262 m).The lake depth fluctuates due to regulation of its water supply, ranging from 8 ft (2.5 m) to 60 feet (18 m) deep at average levels. The lake level is kept within 1261 to 1264 m above sea level. It is fed by several streams, including the Williamson River and Sprauge River is drained by the Link River, which issues from the south end of the lake. It is connected by a short channel to the smaller Agency Lake to the north. The Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge sits along the north edge Since 1917, the water level in the lake has been regulated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation as part of the Klamath Reclamation Project to support agriculture in the upper Klamath Basin as promised by congress. Prior to the 20th century the lake was surrounded by widespread marshes which were largely drained for cultivated land. The lake is naturally eutrophic, resulting in a high natural concentration of nutrients. In the 20th century, the augmentation of nutrients by agricultural runoff in the surrounding farming valley have caused the lake to become hypereutrophic resulting in blue-green algae (in Florida its supposed to be the healthiest to eat, sold there under the Klamath Blue Green Algae label)blooms over the lake ( largely Microcystis aeruginosa and Aphanizomenon flos-aquae) The algae blooms turn the water an opaque green in the summer and afford little recreational use on the lake. Are the Tribes testing this water daily and posting it as unsafe too? State standards for dissolved oxygen are routinely violated. In 1988, two formerly abundant Upper Klamath Lake fish species(lets see weren’t they tried to be exterminated?), the Lost River sucker and the shortnose sucker about the only species that can survive in the Lake,(Catostomidae), they only have one scientific name and I believe they are the same species or else they would have separate scientific names, even though they enjoy two separate listings, were placed on the federal endangered species list. So lets not blame the Algae blooms on the dams in Siskiyou County people, everything that the people who want the dams removed have said is not correct. Removing the dams will not raise the dissolved oxygen, lower the river temps, and bring more fish back and restoring the Klamath will just not happen. Lets see the science that will prove it, there hasn’t been any. By the way who’s going to take complete responsibility for removal if it fails? Which it most definitely will. The Klamath has never been and never will be “pristine” unless we add 200 feet or as much as possible on top of the existing Irongate Dam. The Klamath River will be worse than it ever was. The Klamath Fisheries can be restored, but if the four dams are removed they will all have to go: Howard Prairie, Lost Creek, Shastina, Greenhorn, Lewiston, Trinity, Shasta, and all the little ones too. They are all tributaries to the Klamath System,the Govenator is already planning a ground water usage bill ( wants 7-12 BILLION to build new dams that’s buried in a bill that will pass), he’s already threatened to veto all bills til it passes, and they’ve already surveyed all your water & ponds and such and it wont be long before all you private land owners will be putting water meters on your wells and getting a water bill from the State or worse yet the Federal Government or both. And the fish will need every drop of water to survive, because if we rely on natural spawning to restore the system it will take hundreds if not thousands of years for the system to restore itself, at the natural survival rate.
    In1960, we moved here(Siskiyou Co.), to build the dam(Irongate then McCloud Dams) my father worked for Morris and Knudsen, and Pete Kiewitt (Uncle Pete he liked me to call him) I used to go to work w/him on weekends and such, we would take the Anderson grade Road out of Yreka, and He would drop me off at about where the rest area is now I would hunt and fish until he picked me up. I didn’t need a dog to get my ducks because I could wade across the river anywhere to pick them up. I would hang the Salmon up in a tree (that was before they built the dam), the water was warm and green and the fish were bruised and sore just like they are now.
    Within the last year I moved out of Siskiyou County. As much as I loved it and the people, it’s just not the same. No logging, (let it burn? I thought it was a renewable resource. Must be so it can burn again) no mining, (WHO lied to the Govenator to get dredging banned? The whole system has been commercially dredged already!! Or did everyone conveniently forget that fact?) and being lied to by the USFS about road closures and such. The Klamath National Forest is not the last national forest that’s not regulated. From Florida to Nevada you can find unregulated Forests everywhere. Its always been my dream to retire in paradise, so I did, but even 3500 miles away, I hear and read almost every day about the great decision with the dams.
    And finally all you people on the west coast guess what? There are friggin Spotted Owls in Florida. I haven’t ate one yet to confirm it, but they sure look the same.
    I’ll have more… I’m just getting started.

    Tom Fyler
    ex-commercial salmon fisherman
    Retired CDFG Fish Culturist,(TECH,B)
    Inverness, Fl

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