Opinion Piece By Samuel Strait – March 16, 2019 –
I see by the reporting in the Triplicate and upon reviewing the most recent Board of Supervisors meeting that there is much missing from the rush to remove the dams on the Klamath River, and much more to be concerned about beyond silt issues and their effect on the harbor. I don’t suppose anyone has considered the possibility that the removal of the dams will not change anything about improvement of the fish populations returning to the Klamath River. I also suspect little thought has been given to the prospect that dam removal may create far more harm than any restoration in the river for many years to come.
There isn’t in much question that dam removal from the Obama administration’s Department of the Interior under then Secretary Ken Salazar was a priority primarily due to heavy political pressure brought by environmentalist forces who often do not bear the “dollar” fallout of their activities. When Secretary Salazar was tasked with the prospect of the removal of the dams on the Klamath River, instructions given to the government scientists who wrote the reports, was not to include any information that cast doubt on that end or that restoration would not be successful.
Environmental activists no longer accepted the standard practice of installing fish ladders as a means of habitat restoration, but rather insisted on complete dam removal.
Since that time, the Klamath dam removal process has moved forward largely unimpeded, inspite of the fact that in many other instances of dam removal, the restorative predictions did not measure up and local populations dealt with a variety of unintended consequences. What is largely ignored by our local representatives is, that in 2011, the Department of the Interior had recently hired a highly respected scientist as their Science Advisor and Science Integrity Officer who was tasked with reviewing the department’s work surrounding Klamath River Dam Removal. That scientist, Dr. Paul Houser, deemed the environmental
impact report as unacceptable, flawed, biased towards dam removal, lacking in sufficient peer reviewed science, and wildly speculative. Many of the recently displayed “facts” that are meant to sway our local representatives are based on those reports. In addition to Dr. Houser’s findings, a Klamath River Experts Panel found that while given the time they had to review the environmental reports, a much more cautious approach should be taken to the predicted 80% restoration figure. The KREP was much more comfortable with at most a 22% figure which would barely cover the loss of the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery’s 17% contribution to the river’s salmon population. In other words, the removal of the dams would result in no, to an insignificant amount of restoration and would likely cause more damage to the local economy rather than any improvement.
There are a number of other factors to be considered, chief among them is that if the dams are to be removed rather than fish ladders installed, it is very possible that environmental forces will call for human aided restoration when natural restoration fails to come about. In that case, we locally, could be looking at years of little to no improvement of the economy, loss of millions of dollars in that economy, and hundreds of millions of dollars in human restoration programs in vain attempts to justify the dam removal.
Very little close examination of any other causes for the decline of fish populations other than the hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River has been considered. Historic declines of cod populations on the eastern coasts of the United States and Canada could very likely beinstructive. In addition, an examination of the decline of salmon and other fish populations on the west coasts of the United States and Canada would be another valuable resource. Salmon are not the only specie of fish that has shown marked declines.
Literally no consideration has been given to the fact that two other dams on the Upper Klamath will be allowed to remain. Both Dr. Houser and the KREP state that only with significant water quality improvement can natural restoration be even possible, something highly unlike to occur from dam removal alone.
As with so many environmental findings of late, there is so much more work to be done, hopefully without activism and political pressure. At this point all that can be concluded is that there are a wide range of outcomes for restoration on the Klamath River. It would be truly unfortunate if we were to be pressured by the most optimistic outcome and be forced to lived with the least.