Opinion: Klamath Agreement Helps Dam Owners, Not Fish

Leonard Masten, Sacramento Bee October 18, 2009

As chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, I was sadly struck by the reality of Rex Rabin’s Oct. 6 political cartoon depicting one dying salmon telling another, “Dams on the Klamath are coming down! Pass it on.”

This scene of mass salmon death in the water-starved Klamath River and its largest tributary, the Trinity River, could be a recollection of the 2002 fish kill of 68,000 spawning salmon that did not get enough water. The cartoon also could predict the future if the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement announced by Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Sept. 30 is implemented as written.

The Bee’s Oct. 4 editorial, “Klamath pact could be a start toward peace,” said the agreement will, “simultaneously help fish and farmers.” I disagree. This agreement has so many loopholes and delays that naturally spawning salmon in the Klamath and Trinity rivers may be dead before one brick is removed from the dams.

The agreement proclaims good goals, but gives the owners of the dams, PacifiCorp, more time to devise legal and legislative plans to stall the removal of the dams until they are exonerated from liability and paid generously by taxpayers. The years of Klamath settlement talks came only after PacifiCorp realized they were on the verge of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s order to put expensive fish ladders at the four turn-of-last-century dams.

Our reservation has the Klamath and Trinity rivers flowing through it. We hope the agreement will help the salmon, but although we have been part of the negotiations we must dissent until more salmon protections are incorporated in the agreement.

No other tribe has spent more time and money defending the Trinity River. The other “environmental” negotiators in the settlement who have embraced this agreement should focus less on the desirability of agreement, and more on objective, good science for the rivers. Agreement should come only after the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement can protect fish in these rivers. We must fight, if even alone, because this is our home and our culture.

The Bee’s editorial noted that “critics are missing the big picture.” When it comes to the big picture our tribe has given decades and millions of dollars to river restoration. We have fished salmon from the Trinity River for thousands of years. The river and the fish are part of us. We don’t have another ancestral homeland to move to. The salmon do not have another river to spawn in.

Leonard Masten is chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.