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Town Hall Issue of Dam Removal

By Samuel Strait – April 7, 2019 –
It shouldn’t be much of a mystery why two different people can attend an event and come away with two entirely different perspectives as to what happened, but here we have it.  Last Wednesday I attended and participated as a panelist in  a Town Hall Meeting hosted by Roger Gitlan.  About a hundred or more local citizens attended this event which discussed four topics with additional time for the audience to weigh in on topics not on the agenda.  Shortly after the meeting Linda Sutter posted in the CCTimes her impressions of what took place.  I could give an alternate perspective on all four topics, but in the interests of brevity, I wish to focus on the Klamath Dam Removal. myself being one of the two presenters.

A five minute introduction for each presenter and a further twenty minutes for questions from the audience leaves very little time for developing an argument about what is a very broad ranging topic with a multitude of potential solutions.  It is not that silt released from the dams is not going to cause problems, or that the loss of green energy from the dams in a State that is obsessed with green energy is something to be happy about, or even the loss of water storage in a state that is talking about taxing drinking water, but are we spending $450 million on a project that will not result in the ultimate goal of water and salmon population restoration any time soon.

When the dam removal representative, Mr. Scott Wright, stepped to the microphone, we were given a short lesson on the recent financial historyof the project, the message that the health of the Klamath River came down to dollars for Pacific Power, and a brief discussion of the composition of the silt trapped behind the dam.  What was noticeably missing from Mr Wright’s introduction was any mention of the future and possible restoration which was to come up later during the question and answer period.

From there the discussion wandered understandably to Supervisor Gitlan’s contribution of mitigation and his disbelief that silt would become a future issue for the harbor.  He felt that to discuss mitigation at this time was premature.  What wasn’t discussed was the fact that the corporation whose task it is to remove the dams would go away upon completion of the dam removal. If Supervisor Gitlan has any concern for potential mitigation, now would seem a better time as mitigation may be difficult to acquire from an entity that no longer exists.  In addition, what was not considered is that major infrastructure projects very seldom stay within budget.  Estimates for completion of the dam project from other sources come in at $800 million to $1.1 billion (Last Chance Grade anyone?) which would leave no money for mitigation and having us ask where the additional money will come.
There have been no bids for the project at this time and it will become very interesting should the bids come in higher than the current estimate of $398 million.

Following the Supervisor’s comments, the audience was invited to offer questions to the panel about future water conditions and potential future population restoration.  Naturally the discussions centered around the notion of other dam removals and their results.  Mr. Wright offered up the eight, not five dam removals, on the Rogue River as an anecdotal example with a further nod to an obscure creek in Washington State as evidence of fish population increase.  That evidence was countered by information from the Oregon Department of Fish and Game stating that the current fish returns on the Rogue River were only 60% of the returns in 2008, the time of the first dam removal.  It was also pointed out that since the dam removals first started in 2008, ocean salmon population had continued to decline over all.

While it was not noted in the forum, there have been over 400 dam removals in the past twenty five years in the United States, many of which were on West Coast streams, creeks and rivers with no clear improvement of salmon populations.  In fact populations of Chinook and Coho salmon, indigenous to the Klamath River, have continued to decline to the point that they now represent less than 1% of their peak historical population.

We then moved on to a lively discussion of the science of water restoration and salmon population improvement where it was pointed out that we are expected, according to the science, to be anticipating rapid improvement of fish stocks, not in five years, but in a few months, with a much brighter economic future all around.    The rebuttal to those claims came in the form of SEVERAL DIFFERENT SOURCES have disputed that characterization as wildly speculative.  Mr. Wright then proceeded to defame one of those sources.

While it wasn’t part of the ensuing discussion, I feel compelled to correct Mr. Wright’s scenario of a single whistle blower from a dubious academic pedigree and work history to a somewhat more accurate description of Dr. Houser.  First and foremost, he graduated with two degrees from two of the most highly regarded programs in the Country. He then went on to a highly respected career in two different federal agencies.  After being the author of over two hundred peer reviewed papers and articles, he was employed as the most senior scientist in federal service as Chief Science Advisor and Science Integrity Officer of the Department of the Interior.  The title translates to GOVERNMENT LICENSED WHISTLE BLOWER!   In addition to Dr. Houser’s concerns about
the science of the Klamath River dam removal project, eight other scientists on the project and the Klamath River Expert’s Panel had similar reservations about over stated claims of river water improvement and the rapid renewal of the river’s salmon populations.

Following a brief decent into the religion of environmentalism and dam removal through the preaching of Eileen Cooper, something we were meant to take as truth based on faith not any facts that Ms. Cooper had to offer, a conclusion was offered.  That being, there is a very distinct possibility that something other than the dams on the Klamath River are responsible for the the river’s declining salmon returns.  There are currently at least a dozen other studies of salmon that have a much greater scientific basis for this decline that do not include removing any dams from rivers.

While this is by no means a thorough discussion of the dam removal process, and was not meant to be.  My primary concern is that $450 million or more will be spent on dam removal and we will see NO discernible change in either water quality or an increase in the salmon population.  If there is no change after 5, 10, 15, 20 years, we will have delayed identifying and correcting the actual problem or problems for many years at an incalculable economic and environmental loss to the local citizens.  At which point the Klamath River Renewal Corporation and River Design Group will no longer be around to mitigate anything and be a distant memory.

3 Responses to Town Hall Issue of Dam Removal

  1. ronalgis Reply

    April 8, 2019 at 4:17 pm

  2. Larry Lauffer Reply

    April 7, 2019 at 10:15 pm

    This is possibly the best article I have seen in the CCT’s. Hope you do follow up articles on this.

  3. Leslie Barnes Reply

    April 7, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    This is my personal opinion but I believe and truly feel that “Last Chance Grade “ is far more important for the people in Del Norte County then the removal of the Dam which is purported to cost approximately $450,000,000! So I’m thinking first of all you might need some guarantees about the silt and also about the increase in Salmon. If we don’t fix Last Chance Grade I’m am afraid it will slide into the Ocean and you can kiss the City of Crescent City goodbye! It has been stated that it would take approximately 6 hours to complete a DETOUR! That’s my reason for wanting to fix Last Chance Grade first then after that is accomplished then talk about the DAM Removal!

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