September 27, 2006
Brian Johnson, Trout Unlimited, 510-528-4772
Steve Rothert, American Rivers, 530-277-0448
Curtis Knight, California Trout, 530-859-1872
Kelly Catlett, Friends of the River, 916-442-3155, ext 223
Glen Spain, PCFFA, 541-689-2000
Sacramento, CA – Conservation groups working to restore the Klamath River hailed the ruling issued today by the judge overseeing the trial-type hearing regarding PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams conducted as part of the hydropower project’s relicensing effort. “The judge affirmed what we have been saying for years – the river is in a lot of pain caused by PacifiCorp’s dams,” said Steve Rothert of American Rivers.
The Hon. Parlen L. McKenna concluded “project operations have and continue to adversely affect” river health, including the resident trout fishery and riparian habitat. He also found that the measures required by the agencies would benefit threatened coho salmon and other anadromous fish, resident trout, Pacific lamprey and riparian habitat. The judge made his decision after hearing forty-five hours of testimony over a five day period and reviewing thousands of pages of written testimony and exhibits.
“This hearing was PacifiCorp’s chance to challenge the agencies’ restoration program – and they failed. They learned today that good science is unbeatable,” said Curtis Knight of California Trout.
Although conservation groups, affected tribes, and several agencies believe that a comprehensive solution including dam removal remains the best option for the Klamath, dam removal was not at issue in this proceeding. Instead, the question before the judge was, assuming the dams continue to operate, how will the utility bring them into the 21st century? The hearing, created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, allowed PacifiCorp to challenge the factual basis for the federal agencies’ mandatory terms and conditions for a new license. The agencies’ prescriptions would require PacifiCorp to construct fish ladders to allow anadromous and resident fish to migrate through the project, install screens to prevent turbines from chopping up fish, and to increase river flows.
“This ruling means that the agencies got it right and PacifiCorp got it wrong. If the company wants to operate the dams, it must change its practices to help restore the Klamath,” said Brian Johnson of Trout Unlimited. “With that question decided, we hope now to be able to work out a comprehensive agreement with PacifiCorp.”
In a draft Environmental Impact Statement issued on Monday, FERC estimated that the project would lose $28million per year operating under the agencies’ terms. The judge’s ruling greatly strengthens the agencies’ mandate. “If someone offers to sell you four dams on the Klamath River for a dollar, run away,” said Rothert.
The dams, built between 1908 and 1962, cut off hundreds of miles of once-productive salmon spawning and rearing habitat in the Upper Klamath, which was once the third most productive salmon river on the West Coast. The dams also impair water quality, encourage the growth of toxic algae and fish parasites and degrade river habitat. Klamath salmon populations dropped to such low levels in 2006 that much of the commercial salmon fishery was closed along more than 700 miles of California and Oregon coastline. Recent closures may have cost the California economy more than $100 million.
Full volitional fish passage such as prescribed by the federal agencies would restore access to more than 350 stream miles of once-occupied habitat above the dams and greatly improve Klamath salmon fisheries. PacifiCorp, however, has resisted true volitional fish passage and instead proposed a “trap and haul” program similar to the one that has already failed in the Columbia River. Federal and state agencies, fishermen, conservationists and Tribes have all rejected that band-aid approach. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), for instance, has recommended complete dam removal, but should that remedy is not ordered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the federal agency that licenses hydropower dams, then it is requiring at least full volitional fish passage up and down the river both ways. This would be far more effective than PacifiCorp’s ‘trap and haul’ alternative.
“What this Court Ruling means is that true fish passage is a long step closer to becoming a reality, even if the dams are not ultimately removed,” noted Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), one of the litigants in the Energy Policy Act hearings. “This ruling not only seriously undercuts PacifiCorp’s ‘trap and haul’ proposal, it also means that one way or the other, salmon will someday day return to the Upper Klamath River.”
When PacifiCorp requested the EPAct hearing, conservation and fisheries groups intervened to support sound science and smart decision-making for the river. That coalition included American Rivers, California Trout, Friends of the River, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Northcoast Environmental Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Trout Unlimited, and WaterWatch of Oregon. At trial, attorneys for American Rivers, California Trout, PCFFA, and Trout Unlimited represented the coalition.