Given the current administration's preference for monied interests over environmental concerns, Tuesday's decision requiring that PacifiCorp place fish ladders, turbine screens and fish bypasses on its Klamath River dams as a condition of renewing federal licenses for them, came as a welcome surprise.
In an effort to restore the river's salmon populations, many have called for the removal of PacifiCorp's aging dams. The Oregon-based power company says it's willing to do that if getting rid of the dams won't affect customers' bills. That essentially amounts to a "We're not doing it." As a compromise, those concerned with coho salmon sports anglers who fish the Klamath, the Yurok tribe for whom salmon is part of a long cultural tradition, Crescent City commercial fishermen who catch salmon in the ocean, and environmentalists afraid of losing another species proposed fish ladders. Such construction, used successfully on other dams, would allow the salmon to continue their run up the river and for the dams to remain in place. PacifiCorp countered with a proposal to trap the salmon and haul them by truck to the dam's other side.
Unfortunately, the lower cost trap-and-haul alternative doesn't result in as many salmon surviving their river trek as would fish ladders. Handling the fish would harm them and worsen existing disease problems.
And while the required changes are expensive PacifiCorp estimates nearly $300 million so is the cost of not restoring the salmon population. Commercial fisherman alone lost $64 million last year because the salmon season on the ocean had to be restricted.
Coho salmon aren't the only species that will benefit from Tuesday's decision, though they receive the most attention as their spawning stock has been cut in half during the past decade. Steelhead, red band trout and lamprey also will benefit, helping to restore the Klamath to the bountiful ecosystem that it once was.
Ultimately, the dams need to be removed. Short of that, limitations and restrictions must be enforced to achieve balance among competing interests for the Klamath's diminishing resources.
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