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Demands for Fish Ladders Ignored

Regulators bypass plan to help Klamath River salmon runs cross dams blocking spawning sites.

September 26, 2006|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — In a tentative ruling Monday that was criticized by environmentalists and Indian tribes, a federal commission that regulates hydropower brushed aside U.S. wild-life agency demands for fish ladders to help dwindling Klamath River salmon runs cross dams that block upriver spawning grounds.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a draft environmental review of the four dams, which are operated by PacifiCorp of Portland, Ore., as part of a license renewal process that is slated to be concluded early next year.

Environmentalists, tribes and commercial fishermen have long battled for removal of the dams, which they believe have played a critical role in the decline of chinook, the highly prized king salmon of the marketplace, while putting the disappearing coho salmon on the endangered species list.

Steve Rothert of the environmental group American Rivers said the commission "overstepped its regulatory powers" in bypassing federal wildlife agency recommendations for fish ladders.

Instead, the regulators in principal agreed with a plan by PacifiCorp to transport salmon around the dams to get them to upper parts of the river that have been blocked for more than half a century.

Foes of the dams had hoped that the cost of building fish ladders -- estimated at more than $100 million -- would force the decommissioning and removal of the structures, which they say also slow and warm the flows, causing increasing problems with fish-killing parasites and disease.

FERC officials could not be reached late Monday.

PacifiCorp officials said they have yet to fully review the draft, which company spokesman Dave Kvamme described as "a massive document."

Though the company's requests were largely reflected in the environmental statement, Kvamme suggested that the process still had a long way to play out and that "the final form will likely be different" than the draft issued Monday.

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eric.bailey@latimes.com

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