Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) Applauds Decision Today to Remove Antiquated Dams
Along Klamath River, Restoring Major Salmon Source for Southern Resident Orcas
The Obama administration and California officials announced a landmark agreement today to remove four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River, bypassing an inactive Congress and beginning the largest river restoration in U.S. history – and rebuilding a major food source for endangered Southern Resident orcas.
The Pacific Whale Watch Association thinks it’s a dam good idea.
The announcement came in a news conference today at the Yurok Reservation in Klamath with California Gov. Jerry Brown and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, NOAA Fisheries Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, and Stefan Bird, CEO of Pacific Power, a division of PacifiCorp, owner of the dams. The project, once completed in 2020, will open up an estimated 500 miles of steelhead habitat and about 420 miles for salmon.
“This historic agreement means that the third-largest salmon-producing river system within the Critical Habitat of these endangered orcas is now back in play,” explains Jeff Friedman, U.S. President of PWWA
, which represents 36 operators in Washington and British Columbia. “In just a few years we hope to have healthy runs of salmon including Chinook awaiting these whales at a crucial halfway point between the Columbia and Sacramento Rivers. This is huge.”
PWWA has stood very publicly in support of broad-based efforts to bring the Klamath dams down, shoulder-to-shoulder with the local tribes, and groups like the Klamath Riverkeeper and the Seattle-based Orca Conservancy to, as PWWA Executive Director Michael Harris says, “bring Southern Resident orca recovery into the discussion.”
PacifiCorp has offered to pay the first $200 million of the project, with the State of California committing an additional $250 million if needed to finish the job. No federal funds will be used.
The Klamath agreement has been a long time coming – and in that time, a lot of damage was done. In 2002, over 70,000 adult Chinook were killed when returning to spawn, making it the largest salmon kill in the history of the American west.
“This has been a very contentious debate,” Harris continues, “and unfortunately the government made it worse by promising stakeholders more water than the system can allocate. They ran that river dry. They pitted the parties instead of bringing them together. But today makes up for all that lost time – and I think it sets a paradigm to remove other fish-killing dams, like those on the Snake that aren’t providing much power but are devastating critical salmon runs and taking food out of the mouths of resident orcas.”
PWWA has also very publicly supported calls to remove four antiquated dams along the Snake River. In its International Symposium in Anacortes on May 14th, the Association featured a powerful presentation by former Army Corps engineer Jim Waddell, a leading proponent of that effort.
“The whale watch community is all-in for dam removal and salmon restoration, whatever it takes to put fish back in the water and help these orcas,” continues Friedman, who’s also a co-owner of Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching on San Juan Island. “All hands on deck. No fish, no blackfish.”
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