The Klamath River Needs More Than Dam Removal

FILE - This Aug. 21, 2009 file photo shows Iron Gate Dam spanning the Klamath River near Hornbrook, Calif. Officials from Oregon, California and the Obama administration are preparing to sign an agreement pledging to seek permission to tear down four hydroelectric dams that are blamed for killing fish and blocking their migration. They’ll also agree Wednesday, April 6, 2016, to protect farmers and ranchers from rising power and water prices as they work on a broader agreement to bring peace to long-running water wars in the Klamath River basin, which straddles the Oregon-Washington border. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard, File)

The following is an Opinion Editorial by Konrad Fisher, Klamath Riverkeeper’s Executive Director. It was originally published on Water Deeply. 

The much-celebrated agreement to remove dams along the Klamath River has been hailed as a win for fish, but the river ecosystem needs more than just dam removal. Increased water flows are also paramount.

At the signing ceremony for a historic Klamath River dam removal agreement last month, Governor Brown pointed out that we are starting to “get it right after so many years of getting it wrong.” He was correct. Dam removal is the single most important step we can take to restore the Klamath River. But to truly get it right, we must also increase water flows in the Klamath River.

Unfortunately, Klamath River water users are being led to believe that dam removal will allow them to take even more water from an already over-allocated river.

It’s a story we know too well. Hard-working farmers and ranchers have built their livelihood upon commitments by federal and state water managers, but the water managers have allocated more water than the river can afford.

Finding a balance between water for agriculture and rivers does not have to be painful or adversarial. In the upper Klamath River watershed, there is ample opportunity to link publicly funded conservation and infrastructure projects to increased river flows and to retire water rights held by farmers and ranchers who themselves want to retire.

While Klamath River dam removal is critical, it must be accompanied by increased river flows if we are to fully restore salmon populations, provide food security for Native American tribal members and adapt to the impacts of climate change.