KLAMATH RIVER DAMS
PacifiCorp owns and maintains numerous hydroelectric facilities in the Pacific Northwest. PacifiCorp is in turn owned by Scottish Power, an international corporate conglomerate located in Scotland. It should be noted, however, that while PacifiCorp owns the dams, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) controls the water. This means the BOR decides how much water flows down the Klamath River and when.
PacifiCorp and its hired consultants claim that the dams have no affect on water quality except to enhance it. They also claim that the only impact to fish is the physical blockage by the dams but that is mitigated by the hatchery below Irongate dam. These claims go against all common sense observations. PacifiCorp does admit that the dams cause a shift in seasonal water temperatures from cooler in the spring to warmer in the fall. The harmful affects on nutrient loading, organic material, pH and dissolved oxygen are not addressed.
The large relatively shallow reservoirs concentrate blooms of blue-green algae dominantly Aphanizomenon. This species of algae rapidly utilizes warm water, sunlight and nutrient-rich water to form thick mats in the summer. When it photosynethizes it adds large amounts of oxygen to the water which is good but it also consumes oxygen to live and when it is cloudy or especially nighttime it takes oxygen out of the water. Dead and decomposing algae also takes large amounts of oxygen out of the water. The algae affects pH by respiring carbon dioxide out of the water in such great quantities that the pH of the water can rise to as much as 10 or more during peak photosynthetic events. When the pH gets this high it causes a shift in nutrient forms and makes ammonia, which is extremely toxic to fish. Aphanezomenon also has the ability to “fix” nitrogen out of the air so that it actually recruits more nitrogen into an already hyper-eutrophic river system.
PacifiCorp has a small amount of control over the daily timing of water releases to maximize profit or provide power during peak usage times. The dams only generate a combined 150 megawatts of power. (The electricity provides subsidized power to the farmers of the upper basin who use it for irrigation pumping). This amount was found to be insignificant by the California Energy Commission, who estimated that California must add 1000 megawatts to the grid every year to accommodate increased demand. Is this inconsequential electricity worth the depletion of anadromous fisheries? The dams stay here, blocking fish runs and decreasing water quality while the profits go overseas.
For more information about this issue and how to get involved, contact the Water Quality Program at: (530) 627-3116 ext. 51 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Klamath water issues in general also check out http://www.waterwatch.org. PacifiCorp and Scottish Power also have informative websites.