Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Will Removing Klamath Dams Lead to a Salmon Revival?

Year after year, volunteers return to tributaries of the Klamath River, just like the fish they’re trying to help do the same thing. Jimmy Peterson, a fisheries project coordinator for the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, places rocks and stones to make fish passages in Fort Goff Creek, 60 miles up from the river’s mouth on California’s North Coast. “This creek has extremely awesome habitat up top here,” Peterson says. “Extremely awesome.” Then he translates: “The water stays really cold and there’s plenty of nice spawning gravel that go up fairly far into the watershed. There’s not a lot of human activity up there either, so it’s fairly untouched.” Scientists estimate that a century ago, hundreds of thousands of coho may have run up the Klamath’s streams and tributaries. Now it’s a few thousand. Federal and private grants fund the council’s work, helping coho access “extremely awesome” habitat because coho are threatened with extinction. Dams aren’t the only reason salmon, trout and other fish need help on the Klamath. But they are a big one. The promise of dam removal is free passage for fish up to cooler spots and native headwaters. And the Klamath River, near California’s northern border, may become the next big western river to see that happen. Federal energy regulators are considering a plan that would open hundreds of miles of the Klamath to the potential of the largest river restoration in U.S. history. Three of the dams are on the California side of the river. The lowest of these is Iron Gate Dam, near Hornbrook, in Siskiyou County, which has trapped silty sand, clay and rocks behind its walls. Reservoirs behind multiple dams slow water down and heat it up into a toxic algae breeding ground. Six years ago, these dams almost went away as part of a locally driven deal among fishery advocates, tribal and farming interests from two states, above the dams and below. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger touted the plan’s goals: removing dams, sharing water, and, yes, helping fish.“I can see already, the salmon fishes screaming, ‘I’ll be back,’” he said to a roomful of laughter. But Congress sat on the deal for five years, and it fizzled in Washington. Now, dam removal is moving forward again, without Congress this time, thanks to an agreement signed in April at the mouth of the Klamath...more

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