Opinion Piece by Samuel Strait
I happened to actually pay attention to the local TV station news out of Eureka last night when I caught a glimpse of the “Gov”, Jerry Brown, lecturing us on “good governmental action” (Oh Pleeeeese, really) in forming a consensus and having a signing ceremony about the up coming removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. Any more now it always gives me the creeps when you have a bunch of politicians and several tribal and environmental activists standing at the mouth of the Klamath River, probably couldn’t do it in the upper Klamath Basin because it isn’t quite as popular up there, talking in words of enormous, largest, biggest, for the good of local communities, the science is settled, and on and on. The first question that comes to my mind is WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR THIS? I am being facetious of course, it will be the local people paying for another government scheme all wrapped up in platitudes, but hardly the great and wonderful beneficial project for most of us.
The other troubling little detail that comes to mind is just who are these people that supposedly represent everyone impacted by the loss of relatively benign electric production in a relatively cost effective fashion and the loss of water stored in reservoirs in a drought stricken-ed state. Similarly, it raises red flags when the Secretary of the Interior casually states that this process is an end run around the US Congress where we all have some sort of representation. I don’t know just how Secretary Jewell can parade a handful of activists, some who do not wish the dams to be removed at all and call it consensus or compromise.
Having become intrigued, by the grandiose statements by all involved to be found in the follow up article written by Laura Jo Welter of Triplicate fame in today’s paper , I think that the statement, ” the largest restoration project in US history” should give everyone something to pause and reflect upon. Government does not have an exactly robust record of success when it comes to large projects and this being one of them coupled with the undeniable fact that the US Congress wouldn’t sign off on it, should make not just the few that signed the settlement agreement reconsider, but allow for reflection on the following details.
Who exactly will be harmed by the dam removal and who exactly will benefit? Is the science that is supposedly settled about restoring fish to the Upper Klamath real or speculative? How much harm will occur by releasing the sediment accumulated behind the dams to existing spawning beds? Will salmon and steelhead who have been prevented from reaching the Upper Flamath for many years actually go there to form new spawning beds? What is it about salmon restoration that is so vital to current Native American populations, particularly those in the lower basin? Will the newly opened Klamath River sans dams really be able to do anything about low water levels should they occur?
Moving on to several other niggling bits of misinformation found in Secretary Jewell’s statements in the Triplicate are if this is such a clear and necessary project why is there any opposition at all? Seems to me that there was a Coastal Voices piece some time back written by yours truly Don Gillespie of Friends of Del Norte fame. In it he made the absurd claim that the dam removal wouldn’t affect anyone financially, nor would electric bills climb. I guess the dam removal fee that I pay each month on my electric bill is a figment of my imagination.
I keep hearing it said by the tribal activist that the salmon restoration is somehow vital and is part of some vague 1,000 years as a food source imperative. I’m not sure how that is, because we have grocery stores in this day and age and I may be mistaken but they don’t seem to exclude Native Americans from shopping in those stores. Culturally, Native Americans might have a case, but it has been some time since the tribes have been totally dependent on salmon as a primary food source. Similarly, it is difficult to point to the dams as the one and only source of lower fish populations when tribal fishermen use modern fishing gear, nylon gill nets, and jet boats to fish in a relatively restricted water way in areas currently well below the Klamath River dams.
Environmental activists seem to be a contradiction in terms, all for restoration but against a relatively environmentally friendly form of electrical production. I guess that must mean that using coal, nuclear, or diesel fired plants to produce electricity is preferable in this case, but only in this case? Unless of course, they are saying that we shouldn’t be able to have cheap, clean, environmentally friendly electricity in any form. As far as restoring habitat that has been altered by the introduction of the hydroelectric dams, this calls for the predicting of the future, rather like speculative science than repeatable science. This means that the science can not really say what will happen if the river is opened up, nor can they predict the negative impact of this action with any certainty. Which makes Secretary Jewell’s statement that the science is clear hardly the case.
And then there are the farmers, who would like to have a reliable source of water to grow food for all of us, including environmentalists and Native American families, and would also along with the electricity user of Southern Oregon and Northern California like the dams to remain. Since these two groups largely outnumber the proponents of the dam removal group, just whose interests are really being served by this recent activity by the Secretary of the Interior and the Governors of California and Oregon, who are saying by their actions that these two groups don’t have a real say in this restoration project?
I didn’t elect a Secretary of the Interior nor has any one else, and think that this is not something that Secretary Jewell should be involved in at all. No matter how much the participants of this little charade claim that every one is being represented and that some how a consensus has been reached, that is far from the actual case. The citizens of Del Norte County have in the past twenty years plenty of experience with grand plans and assurances of beneficial projects only to be disappointed nearly every time. Maybe its time to just leave the dam removal restoration project as something that wasn’t ready for public consumption and move on.