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Tribes, Fishermen Take Klamath River
Fight To Scottish Power

by Dan Bacher
July 3, 2004

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Scotland is a long way from the Klamath River, but the Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk and Klamath tribes are planning to send representatives to Scotland later this year. They will be protesting the damage that Scottish Power is causing to the salmon and steelhead populations of the Klamath River by the operation of Iron Gate, Copco and other dams.

Scottish Power’s subsidiary, PacifiCorp, filed for a 50-year operational license for their Klamath River dam complex in April. A week later, the Klamath River Tribes, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Friends of the River filed comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) citing deficiencies in the document.

“It’s amazing that a 4 foot tall, 80 lb. document could lack anything, but this document has a gaping hole in it,,” said Merv George, Jr. director of the Klamath River Inter-Tribal Fish and Water Commission. “At PacifiCorp’s invitation, we attended meetings for over two years to work out an application we could all live with. We constantly voiced concerns over fish passage. In the end, we’re left feeling betrayed.”

In May and June, the battle for the Klamath heated up even more.

• The tribes wrote to the corporation’s Board in Glasgow, requesting it to direct PacifiCorps to enter settlement negotiations.

• The Klamath Tribes in the Upper Klamath Basin filed suit against PacifiCorp, seeking at least $1 billion in compensation for the destruction of salmon runs that they traditionally fished above Iron Gate Dam.

• On June 22, the tribes, environmentalists and fishermen held a large protest before a FERC hearing in Eureka. After the protest, more than 200 people packed a large hotel conference room, most arguing for the removal of Pacific Power dams.

Meanwhile, the transnational corporation touts its credentials in bombastic fashion on the Scottish Power website: “With more power in England than Bonnie Prince Charlie, Scottish Power is a hero in the UK’s deregulated energy market. One of the largest multi-utilities in the country, the company supplies electricity and natural gas to 4 million customers and generates 5,000 MW of capacity, (primary fossil-fueled) through its UK division, which also markets and trades energy.”

However, to the tribes, environmentalists and anglers, Scottish Power is anything but a “hero.” They claim that the dams operated by PacifiCorp, played “a significant part” in the Klamath River fish kill of September 2002. In the largest fish kill in U.S. history, over 34,000 salmon perished because of the outbreak of disease in the low, warm flows.

The tribes cite several key flaws in PacifiCorp’s application, including lack of water quality data and overestimations of projected earnings from the project, but what river advocates find most troubling is the lack of fish passage studies.

In response to the tribes’ claims, a spokesman for Scottish Power was quoted in the Sunday Herald in Glasgow, Scotland on May 16 as saying, “Removal of the dams would perhaps please the tribes, but it could spell disaster for farmers in the area in terms of irrigation. Our relicensing proposal calls for a compromise.”

Craig Tucker of Friends of the River pointed out the ludicrousness of this contention. “The claim that removing dams or installing fish ladders would hurt agriculture is a total lie,” he stated. “They don’t provide irrigation water and dam removal would have a negligible impact on electricity production in California.”

Pacific Corp’s Klamath River powerhouses generate 151 megawatts, only 2 percent of the subsidiary’s total hydroelectricity, so removal of the dams would have a tiny impact upon the total electricity generated by Klamath River Powerhouses.

“The dams do not benefit Basin communities,” said Leaf Hillman of the Karuk Tribe “They don’t provide for irrigation or flood control and even the California Energy Commission tells us that they produce very little electricity. PacifiCorp is looking for a cheap way out, not a solution to the problem.”

Several agencies, local officials, and Bush’s own panel of scientists have urged dam removal studies. By ignoring fish passage altogether, PacifiCorp is attempting to foreclose on solutions to the Klamath crisis.

River advocates are also concerned about PacifiCorp’s statements that if forced to consider fish passage, “trap and haul” is the strategy they would prefer. “The fact that they’re talking ‘trap and haul’ highlights the reality that these dams are antiquated structures from a bygone era,” added Tucker. “Driving fish upstream won’t solve the problem either. You still have to get the smolts back downstream. This raises the issue of dam removal."

Downstream tribes - the Karuk, Yurok and Hoopa - have suffered the most from the dams. “While they kill the fish with their hydropower dams, downstream Native Americans go without fish to eat or electricity in their homes,” said Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok tribe, who noted that 61% of the homes, a school, and two churches are without electricity on the Upper Yurok reservation.

Mike Orcutt, fisheries program director of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, added, “The tribe gets no power benefits from the dams, while the upriver projects have a big impact upon our fishery. In the big fish kill of September 2002, the majority of the salmon were destined for the Trinity.”

Restoring the Klamath fishery would also benefit the commercial and recreational fishing industries. Restoration could provide a much needed boost to the Northern California and southern Oregon economy, since the money spent on fishing and other tourist-based recreation contributes millions of dollars to the hotels, resorts, sporting good stores, gas stations and other businesses that comprise a big portion of the local economy.

River advocates are encouraging Governor Schwarzenegger to get more involved in defending the Klamath watershed. The tribes are looking to FERC to use its authority to protect tribal trust resources, but the CA Water Resources Control Board, under the Governor’s direction, can make demands on the license to protect fisheries.'

Meanwhile, the tribes and their supporters will be raising funds for their trip to Scotland; no specific date for the trip is set yet.

The target date for final license approval is March, 2006. For more information, contact:  or

Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email:


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