A lot of people who don’t live here have counted many victories at the expense of those who do. The scheduled elimination of the Klamath dams is the most poignant example of their misdeeds.
You don’t have to travel very far to be astonished by how many people you run into that had a hand in this. Nearly every one has never visited the area, but is very proud of their involvement. And they are quite indignant about it, convinced their assumptions are correct, their cause is correct, and anyone opposing them is an enemy of nature, especially salmon.
Yet the person who probably contains the broadest awareness of the big picture is someone nobody has heard of. His name is Anders Thomlinson.
An artist in every sense of the word, Anders wandered into the Klamath area in the mid-90s. He was documenting the natural aquifer known as the Great Basin that runs from southern Oregon all the way to Sonora, Mexico. Few things rub him the wrong way more than when locals mis-label the Klamath Wastershed as the Great Basin. Similarly, he contends there is no such thing as “the Klamath Basin.” He became fascinated with the stories of everyone involved in area water issues, and began his storytelling with nature photography and videotaping interviews of anyone who would talk to him, from farmers in Klamath County to tribal fisherman where the Klamath meets the Pacific ocean. He also interviewed all the biologists and scientists who monitor everything from tributary water temperatures to salmon feed stock.
Anders spent ten years of his life on the exclusive task of documenting these view points. This makes him the most informed human being on the subject, far more than any EPA analyst, congressman, or farm lobbyist.He has archived for posterity all the evidence he discovered.
His conclusion? Removing the dams won’t make any difference. There are a number of reasons.
1. Salmon are temperature sensitive. Warming of even a degree can disrupt their life cycle.
2. Global warming is real.
3. The tributaries feeding the Klamath River are getting warmer every year. How will removing the dams reduce the temperature if the sources are warmer? It won’t.
4. The Klamath River has many dead zones where there isn’t enough oxygen to support the life of fisheries. This is a direct result of temperature, not flow, that increases plant growth that rots and robs the water of oxygen, creating a toxic soup.
5. The food chain the salmon depend on is moving further north as the ocean current shifts. Much of this is a direct result of human civilization and the pollution it generates. The rest is from global climate change and overfishing.
SO MUCH FOR AWARENESS
Nobody noteworthy asked for Anders’ opinion. Nor did they listen when he tried to explain through his various art forms. There’s too much money at stake, not from the Salmon fishermen, but from the federal bureaucracies with self-serving agendas…and the consultants they pay to write papers that support the conclusions they want to see.
The public loves a scapegoat, and the Klamath dams and all those who depend on them are a relatively easy target, being small in population. It is also ironic that dams are the most renewable resource for electrical power. Elsewhere in the country, states are installing more of them.
Many of the pundits so adamant about removing the dams work for government and consultants based in San Francisco, which is very ironic. San Francisco had the largest west coast salmon fishery south of the Columbia River. Now there are hardly any salmon that migrate the Bay to the Sacramento River. This is a direct result of pollution from urban sprawl and the fact that half of the original bay was filled in since the area was colonized.
But you don’t see these people who exact their futile revenge on the insignificant Klamath stakeholders doing anything significant to restore the salmon to the San Francisco Bay (something significant would be removing all the fill the office buildings sit on to bring back the 60% of the bay estuary). They couldn’t possibly disrupt their own lifestyle to save the species they claim to respect so much, but they sure can donate funds and rally to displace Klamathites.
And nevermind that the Trinity River contributes more water to the Klamath than the upper Klamath does. Why aren’t they targeting removal of the dams in the Trinity watershed, especially Lake Shasta? Clearly, that would impact the entire water supply for northern California, especially the San Joaquin valley where so much of the nation’s produce is grown.
And then we have the Nature Conservancy, who owns a large cache of land in the Klamath area. They are responsible for blowing up the Chiloquin dam and then blasting trenches for a strange, large concrete eyesore that can be seen from the bridge over the Williamson River on Highway 97. They sided with the Klamath tribes to restore suckerfish habitat…a fish no one actually eats.
Since their project began, the dikes of the Williamson have been blown away. Once teeming with beavers and various endangered species, it is now a homogeneous wetland with very little diversity. The actions of the Nature Conservancy are silting up the watershed more. Small boats used to be able to navigate the Wood River, but it is too shallow now. Marinas have closed, negatively impacting tourism.
When water gets too shallow, it warms further. Plants grow and create land. How are fish supposed to thrive if there is not enough water for them to swim in? Decrease the depth, water warms and more algae grows. Algae ultimately takes away oxygen.
In the early 1900s, Klamath lake used to be dredged regularly. There were salmon then. The lake loses depth each year as another layer of algae sinks to the bottom and rots. Most of the upper lake is only a foot deep with several feet of mud below that. There aren’t any birds because there aren’t any small fish to eat. Want to see birds? Go to any farmer’s field in the Fall. Anders Tomlinson spent a lot of time in those fields. He noted that migratory waterfowl don’t like the cat tails and wetlands. There’s no place to land, and less to eat. But the potato fields in Tulelake are a magnet for waterfowl.
Klamath Lake is dotted with springs. Some hot, some cold. An entity that hoped to address the temperature problem better than removing dams would cap the hot springs emptying into the lake. Dredging could potentially connect the cold springs, creating a deep cold water channel that would exit through the Klamath River, bringing the temperature down. But that argument has been forever banned from discussion.
When the dams are removed (at the expense of the electrical ratepayers, many in Klamath County), mountains of silt that have for decades collected at the base of the dams will clog the entire river system. We know from clearcutting studies that silt is not good for fish.
The other unintended consequence nobody talks about are the 28 companies who run white water rafting expeditions on the Klamath River south of Keno. These class three to five rapids attract rafters from around the world. This will further degrade tourism and the rafting companies will be out of business. Without the dams, there isn’t enough flow to raft the Klamath. The last and best access to recreation that most significantly puts people in touch with the Klamath River will be gone. But those government and consultant types who know so much about what is best for the Klamath River would never made that run anyway.
Final point. Do you see that lake that Klamath Falls is built around? That centerpiece of the community is called Lake Ewauna. It will disappear when the dams go.
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