The following Op-Ed was written by CalTrout Conservation Director Curtis Knight and published in the Redding Record-Searchlight.
It’s a response to the volley of misinformation fired off by critics of dam removal after 9000+ pages of triple-peer-reviewed scientific studies were published — studies which said removing the Klamath River dams represented the best path forward for the troubled Klamath River basin.
After 9,000 pages of triple-peer-reviewed scientific investigation told us the Klamath River dams need to come out, it’s disquieting to see naysayers still relying on bad facts to defend a broken status quo.
Mischaracterizations, and misinformation, about the environmental impacts of dam removal continue to be repeated by some.
For example, opponents of dam removal have argued that removing the dams would harm the environment by releasing toxic sediment. The Final Environmental Impact Study, released just last week by the Interior Department, indicates that’s just not true. Tests have shown only trace amounts of toxics in the sediment.
In fact, the toxic algae blooms found each summer behind Iron Gate Dam — the toxic legacy of which can be measured all the way out to the ocean — represent the real threat to water quality and fish.
Naysayers also decried the economic harm to local communities posed by removal. Yet dam removal is expected to generate over 1,400 jobs — with another 4,100 new jobs created over the life of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA).
It’s notable that the dam’s owner — PacifiCorp — and both California and Oregon Public Utility Commissions have concluded that dam removal under the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement is cheaper than relicensing. The dam removal deal is simply better for PacifiCorp’s customers.
Some continue to argue that removing the dams also would take water from farms and ranches upstream.
Water flows downhill, and the four lower Klamath River dams provide no irrigation function. The vast majority of Klamath irrigators and irrigation districts support the KBRA agreement for the water security it offers. Removing the dams means more reliable water for those who live upstream.
In fact, in the absence of the KBRA, the Klamath Tribes could exercise their newly adjudicated water rights, irrigators could make their claims, and Endangered Species Act-related water demands for coho salmon downstream would all continue to collide. The KBRA provides a balanced approach to water management crafted by those most involved, who in the past fought in the courts to resolve these issues.
To paraphrase the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, opponents of the KBRA and dam removal are entitled to their own opinions — but not their own facts.
With another below average water year looming in the Klamath watershed, it’s clear the Klamath Agreements are needed, and badly. They deliver jobs, water security to irrigators, the promise of 81 percent increases in salmon populations, and a host of other benefits.
To glimpse a future without the KBRA, and the accompanying Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, one need only look to the recent past: the economic hardship of water shutoffs in 2001, the fish kill of 2002, and the fishery closure of 2006.
Then consider that past in the context of communities devastated by water calls; off-the-hook energy costs for irrigators; unending ESA-related litigation; the sudden imposition of water quality regulations; tribal interests attempting to protect their historic fisheries and a host of other factors.
It’s not pretty. And once the wreckage is visited upon the Klamath Basin communities, it will take more than a dependence on bad facts to undo the damage.