Monday, September 18, 2006

Umpqua woes inform Klamath River misery

Should the North Umpqua River be in a pipe (see photo), or in a natural river channel? Such questions motivated many people to work with and against Pacificorp/Scottish Power, the owners of the hydroproject, as they sought a new license.

Hopes were high when dam relicensing started in the mid 1990s, and the full set of problems began to reveal themselves. Hopes were dashed.

Most people do not know about the extensive human plumbing that has drastically altered the upper reaches of the world famous North Umpqua River, renowned for summer steelhead fly fishing. There are actually 7 hydrodams, and around 40 miles of hydropower pipes that nearly dewater the headwater streams and rivers. Typical diverson can be greater than 90% of the flow. It is not a stretch to say that the river travels in pipes instead of stream channels for these 40-some miles.

An engineering marvel and a biologists nightmare, and Pacificorp/Scottish Power is actually proud of it!

After hydropower relicensing, and lawsuits against the raunchy "agreement" that was reached, the improvements to the system are relatively minor. The river still runs in pipes for 40 miles, but the power company agreed to leave just a bit more of the water in the natural streambeds.


In fact, new problems have emerged, as the power system's owners have struggled to squeeze even more money out of the system. It didn't have to be this way, they could have made some reasonable and affordable improvements that would have protected the health of the North Umpqua River.

What does this say about the Klamath? The same power company owns the key hydropower dams. So don't get your hopes up that they'll actually agree to improvements. They've shown a Houdini-like ability to squirm out of their obligations to rivers and people who care about them.

I know, I was there for the Umpqua doings.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good reportage on the Klamath. There seems to be some belief among the locals that Scottish Power will eventually do the right thing, but history suggests that's not necessarily the case.

The ability of organizations to "squirm" out of their responsibilities is galling (witness the decades-long fight for the Trinity).

Keep up the good work!