Damn Those Dams


by Sarah Phelan

In case you missed it, March 14 was International Day of Action for Rivers, those beautiful silvery slivers of water that feed salmon fingerlings into the world wide mobius of oceans, then draw the adult salmon back to the headwaters where they were spawned, like pods beamed back up to the mother ship.

Only in the case of salmon, who jump six feet on average, returning is impossible if there’s a big fat dam in their way.

Such is the case on the Klamath River in Oregon. Once the third most productive salmon fishery in America, the river is encumbered by four power dams, which were built 80 years ago, average 84 ft in height and stand between the threatened salmon and over 350 miles of historic spawning grounds.

Now it looks as if the dams that block the Klamath’s headwaters may come down. After years of arguing over Iron Gate and the three other dams on the Klamath, imperiled Indian tribes, conservationists, fishing groups and the state government have joined with farmers in pushing for the decommissioning of the dams to create the free flows of water that the salmon so desperately.

Tipping the balance in favor of decommissioning the dams is an economic reality: to operate, the dams need new licenses—and the federal government has ruled that to get new licenses, the dam’s operator, Pacific Corp, which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, must shell out $300 million for fish ladders and screens.

Removing the dams would cost $101 million less than building these modifications

Removing other dams (such as Hetch Hetchy) won’t be so easy, but this project is within reach. To find out how, check out www.irn.org/dayofaction.