Most observers thought the recent decision requiring PacifiCorp to spend $300 million for fish ladders and other amenities would mean the end of its dams on the Klamath River. But late last week the company said it would spend the dollars needed so it could get a 50-year extension to operate the hydroelectric plants.
While not the perfect solution for restoring the Klamath's salmon population, it is a compromise that's in everyone's best interests.
The fish ladders are needed if salmon and other fish populations are to ever rebound. With the dams, there is less space for the salmon to migrate and spawn. This confinement allows diseases to spread more rapidly. The result is too few salmon for sports fishermen, commercial fishermen and the Yurok tribe to catch. All of this conspires to hurt local tourism, limits jobs at local harbors and diminishes a rich cultural heritage.
Fortunately, fish ladders and other amenities have proven themselves as ways of increasing salmon and fish stocks in other Pacific Northwest rivers, most notably the Columbia. While populations haven't returned to pre-dam levels, they're on their way to being able to support a variety of businesses and traditions.
PacifiCorp almost certainly will profit by keeping those dams in operation, and we likely will be the indirect beneficiaries of it. Building a new electric-producing plant to replace the dams will cost well in excess of the fish ladders' price tag. If a plant were built, it would be years from opening and likely use natural gas, which is rising in price. While a California Energy Commission report did say PacifiCorp would save money by removing the dams and buying power from other companies, that's a formula for business disaster. Demands for energy will increase dramatically in the years ahead, so throwing away existing hydroelectric plants is like tossing perfectly good food from the cupboard even though you've got guests coming over tomorrow. Keeping the plants open means PacifiCorps' customers Del Norte County residents among them don't have to pay for electricity that another company sells to the highest of several bidders.
We need our salmon population to recover. We also need energy. A compromise has been reached to ensure we have both.
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