Why the Klamath Dams Don’t Provide “Green” Energy

irongatedam3.jpgThe Klamath River is sick, very sick. This once mighty river runs through the Cascade Mountain Range, from southern Oregon to northern California. In 2002, over 33,000 salmon died in a massive fish kill caused by dams on the river, as well as water diversions, agriculture, industrial pollution, mining, road building and poor forestry. In subsequent years, commercial fish seasons have been canceled and fish counts continue to be extremely low (75% lower than before the fish kill). According to the Klamath Riverkeeper,

The Klamath River, the third largest river on the west coast, was once one of the most productive salmon rivers in the country with over a million salmon returning to spawn in its waters each year. Now the Klamath River is only a shadow of its former self due to dams, diversions, agriculture, industrial pollution, mining, road building and poor forestry.

Every 50 years, the Klamath River Dams undergo relicensing, and now is the chance for dam removal. Many critics of dam removal state that the dams produce “clean,” renewable energy. Although hydroelectricity is sustainable, such as the micro hydro system that powers my home, on a massive scale it is not green. New projects are being protested worldwide. On the Klamath, algae growth caused by warm water temperatures created by the dams and diversions actually produce methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Pacificorps, owned by Warren Buffett, owns the Klamath Dams. Dam removal is cheaper than building fish ladders, yet Pacificorp, one of the lowest-cost electricity producers in the United States, would prefer to transport migrating salmon by semi-truck around the dams. This certainly is not a clean energy solution, and the Klamath Dams are old, outdated, and inefficient. The Klamath Riverkeepers state, “The dams only provide 160mW of electricity, an amount the California Energy Commission said could be replaced with a wind farm at equal cost to upgrading the dams.”

The problems of the Klamath River are not easily solved, but there is a lot at stake. This river is vital to Native Americans in the region:

The Klamath, Karuk (upriver), Yurok (downriver), and Hoopa tribes in the Klamath Basin have cultures that are deeply connected to the land. Today these tribes and other nature dependent people in the region are suffering from loss of land and fisheries, and the loss of the traditional diet, which also affects cultural practices. However, the people of this region are very strong and are fighting for their way of life. They continue to be stewards of the forest and rivers and to lead the struggles to save the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon.

The Klamath Dams do not produce “green” energy, they produce toxic green algae!

Learn more:

New York Times

The Klamath Riverkeepers

Klamath Restoration Council

Klamath Dams Protest Video

Battle for the Klamath

Eco Child’s Play

  1. Power

    β€œThe dams only provide 160mW of electricity, an amount the California Energy Commission said could be replaced with a wind farm at equal cost to upgrading the dams.”

    Wind power is a pretty stupid replacement for a dam, unless you only want to provide power when it is windy. Have you ever tried stockpiling wind?

  2. Jennifer Lance

    The purpose of the quote was to illustrate how the power produced by the dams could be replaced with an alternative, green source for less than building the fish ladders. Solar also has its weather related drawbacks, but killing off the Native People’s way of life and a river’s ecosystem for 160mW of hydroelectric power is not a fair trade, in my opinion.

  3. Native American researcher

    The dams located throughout the Pacific Northwest are causing a myriad number of problems – and not only for salmon – but for Native American tribes, agriculturalists, and others. I would have to agree that the Klamath dam should be taken down. I did work on some other Columbia River system dams and their impacts on tribes, it is hugh. Just think, in some cases a small salmon has to make it through 20+ dams to reach its spawning grounds. Not a very likely option. Solar and wind are good alternatives depending on the location throughout the Plateau area. But yes, ruining a culture and way of life for 160mW is not a fair trade.

  4. Bobby B.

    If global warming comes to fruition, the dams will take themselves out of service since there will be no snow to melt and no water to flow downhill. Problem solved!

    Actually, I was being a little tongue-in-cheek with that comment. Dams are by no means perfect, but they generally accomplish their intended goals. The effect on the salmon population is disturbing, but pale in comparison to the fish kills caused by natural disasters like hurricanes and psunamis. Those events kill tens of millions, not merely thousands.

  5. Mark

    A solar energy farm in central or eastern Oregon ought to be on every power company’s drawing boards as of yesterday. On the other hand, solar will never be able to perform flood control duties, either. Flood control has been one of the primary reasons for dams, with power generation as a nice benefit during the electrification of the west.

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