Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dams come down for fish

In a remarkable feat of river un-development, Marmot Dam on Oregon's Sandy River will be demolished and removed starting this summer.

Portland General Electric is taking out the dam without a fight, an unusual situation in the hydropower industry. PGE took a fairly responsible position in relicensing their hydropower dams, voluntarily agreeing to take out the worst ones. Of course, this bought them something. They get less resistance when they propose modest modifications instead of removal for some other dams.

PGE's big prize that they get to keep? The Pelton-Round Butte project on Central Oregon's Deschutes River, which is a much more significant blockage of salmon and river continuity, and a maker of much more money. I worked on the Deschutes in the mid 1990s and it was interesting to see how effectively PGE got their way by being more reasonable than most hydropower utilities. For example, PGE was much better than PacifiCorp, who gets more opposition from friends of salmon. Especially for their role in the Klamath River's problems.

PGE is smarter than a lot of resource users, they choose to help draw a line about what impacts should go and which should be allowed to stay. If they fought all environmental restoration, they might lose more. Rather than roll the dice and hope to win everything, they made a safer bet. The Sandy River wins this bet.

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