A pitched battle on the Klamath


It's refreshing to read an account of our situation on the Klamath that takes the time to tell a complicated but ultimately entertaining and gratifying story (HCN, 6/23/08). As an outreach director for a small nonprofit, my job involves informing the public about what's happening on the Klamath and what they can do to help restore it. Articles like Matt Jenkins' "Peace on the Klamath" make my job a lot easier, by going beyond the outdated sound bites that have dominated the "Klamath crisis" to tell a multi-sided story that people can relate to.

However, there is another chapter to the story in dire need of emphasis. While irrigators, tribes and willing environmentalists made great strides toward "peace" on the Klamath, PacifiCorp still operates from a battle mentality. Though state and federal economic studies have shown that removing PacifiCorp's dams will be far cheaper than doing the fish-passage upgrades needed to get the dams re-licensed, PacifiCorp still obstinately refuses to discuss dam removal, and instead repeatedly spreads the erroneous implication that dam removal will cost its ratepayers more money. It simply will not, and the news media need to amplify this fact.

Meanwhile, PacifiCorp's reservoirs are breeding late-summer blooms of toxic algae that have been measured at 4,000 times what the World Health Organization considers a moderate risk to human health. This algae not only shuts down 190 miles of the river to recreational contact during sport and ceremonial fishing periods, it is also documented as a toxic threat in the flesh of reservoir gamefish and mussels. A representative of California's Water Board recently told the press that dam removal may be the only effective way of dealing with the pollution.

We can have "peace on the Klamath" till the cows come home, but if PacifiCorp refuses to agree to the terms of the ceasefire, we still have a pitched battle going. Only this time, we've gone beyond "cowboys and Indians" into one of the true wars of the 21st century: multinational corporations perpetrating under-publicized acts of environmental injustice against rural communities and people of color.

Malena Marvin
Outreach and Science Director, Klamath Riverkeeper
Ashland, Oregon