Klamath group sues over waste

March 27, 2007 11:00 pm

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – An environmental group sued PacifiCorp and California's wildlife agency Tuesday over claims that a fish hatchery is releasing pollution that is deadly to fish downstream.

Klamath Riverkeeper, part of an environmental alliance headed by Robert Kennedy Jr., filed suit in U.S. District Court in Sacramento alleging discharges from the hatchery violated the Clean Water Act.

At issue is the hatchery at the Iron Gate Dam located on the Klamath near the Oregon border, operated by the California Department of Fish and Game and owned by PacifiCorp, a Portland, Ore.-based energy company. High concentrations of fish parts, excrement and food released from the hatchery's salmon and steelhead pens feed toxic algae blooms that have caused the Klamath's salmon population to drop sharply, said Klamath Riverkeeper Regina Chichizola.

The department is also releasing drugs given to the hatchery's fish into the Klamath in violation of state water regulations, Chichizola said.

A PacifiCorp spokesman said a Fish and Game report gave a false impression that too much waste was being discharged from the hatchery because it mistakenly used the wrong unit of measurement.

Company spokesman Dave Kvamme said Fish and Game has corrected the error.

The Fish and Game department has been in discussions with Klamath Riverkeeper over the Iron Gate hatchery but could not comment further on the pending litigation, spokesman Steve Martarano said.

Klamath Riverkeeper described the lawsuit as a way to increase pressure on the company to remove its Klamath hydroelectric dams straddling the Oregon-California border.

Federal fisheries agencies in January required PacifiCorp to provide means for salmon to swim freely over the four dams as a condition of obtaining a new operating license for the next 30 to 50 years.

PacifiCorp said last month it is willing to spend $300 million to build fish ladders and other means to get salmon over the dams rather than face a power shortage caused by tearing them out.

The utility, controlled by billionaire Warren Buffett, serves 1.6 million customers in six Western states.

The Klamath was once the West Coast's third-biggest producer of salmon, but last year federal fisheries managers practically shut down commercial salmon fishing after the third straight year of poor returns of wild chinook.