The Klamath dams by the numbers

by Erin Halcomb



Removing the four salmon-blocking dams on the Klamath may prove even cheaper than regulators first thought. The California Energy Commission just re-ran the numbers, comparing the costs of removing the dams versus retrofitting them for fish passage. The results, released March 24, say it would cost PacifiCorp $114 million less to breach the dams than to remodel them.

PacifiCorp, however, disagrees. Company spokesman Dave Kvamme says the commission has failed to consider the cost of dealing with the sediments released by dam removal. “The best outcome for the environment and the Klamath river would be to re-license the Klamath hydro project and make investments in fish ladders,” says Kvamme. After the California Energy Commission released a report in December estimating that removal would be $101 million cheaper than retrofitting, PacifiCorp contracted its own cost analysis. The company concluded that it would save $46 million by remodeling the dams.

For this third report, the commission used numbers provided in PacifiCorp’s analysis and corrected errors in the first report, says Susanne Garfield, an Energy Commission spokeswoman. She says the report didn’t assess costs for sediments because another study indicated that sediment deposits and their toxicity wouldn’t affect the price.

The Klamath River is one of the most important spawning passages for imperiled chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout, and breaching its dams has been debated for years. Even as the California Energy Commission and PacifiCorp duke it out -- and their respective consulting firms do good business -- the dams are still killing fish.

They’re also killing the fishing industry: Western senators recently requested $60.4 million in disaster assistance for salmon fisherman in the 2007 Emergency Supplemental spending bill. (See previous HCN reporting on salmon fishing closures and fish kills along the Klamath.)

PacifiCorp’s 50-year license for the dams expired last year; the company is operating under annual extensions until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission plows through the paperwork and reaches a decision. That decision could be further complicated by a lawsuit just filed by nonprofit Klamath Riverkeeper against PacifiCorp, asserting that pollutants from the hatchery at Iron Gate Dam violate the Clean Water Act.

Click here >to see American Rivers' simulation of the Klamath before and after dam removal.<P> © High Country News