Commentary: What the public needs to know
about Klamath River dams
by WILLIAM E. SIMPSON II
Iron Gate and Copco lakes together
hold a reserve of 45 billion gallons of fresh water.
The Klamath River Renewal Corporation
wants to destroy these lakes and drain that precious fresh
water reserve into the sea, due to the premise that removing
these lakes and their dams will restore fish migration past
However, geologic science informs us
that several large natural lava dams had blocked the Klamath
River at Ward’s Canyon for millennia, and right up until the
time of the construction of the present-day Copco Dam.
Therefore, the premise of fish
migration past this area is a dangerous myth.
Nature, not man, ordained that
migratory fish did not pass the high lava dams at Ward’s
Canyon, the present-day site of Copco 1 Dam.
Historical reports by the Department
of Interior and other published observations of the area
indicate that for time immemorial several natural lava dams,
which are referred to as a "dikes" or "reefs" by geologists
in historical reports and modern published geology studies,
prevented anadromous fish from migrating upstream in the
Klamath River past Ward’s Canyon.
The largest natural rock dam was
massive and was made of volcanic andesite. It was over 130
feet tall and about 1,000 feet thick, and is the oldest
exposed rock in the area, estimated to be 10 million to 20
million years old. This massive natural dam formed a large
lake on the Klamath River that was 5 miles long and 1 mile
wide called Clammittee Lake, which is within the footprint
of present-day Copco Lake.
Over a period of thousands of years,
this high dam (and others) separated the oceangoing fish
from the Upper Klamath Basin species, such as Red Band Trout
(salmon, aka Salmon Trout in the historical record).
In 1911, J.C. Boyle recorded that the
130-foot-tall andesite dam had been eroded over time, and
the waters in Clammittee Lake ultimately settled behind a
31-foot-tall basalt dam that was about two-tenths of a mile
upriver from the larger andesite dam, forming a smaller
version of Clammittee Lake.
Over millennia, a uniquely complex
ecosystem evolved in and around Ward’s Canyon and the waters
of Lake Clammittee, containing a myriad of flora and fauna,
that today includes threatened and endangered species, where
the indigenous Shasta peoples had established permanent
Science indicates the most robust of
the salmonid species can only jump 10-12 feet.
It would have been impossible for any
ocean-going fish to have migratory access into the waters of
the Upper Klamath Basin due to nature’s natural lava dams.
Moreover, a physical barrier
separating species from interbreeding is the genesis of
speciation, and is called "allopatric speciation," which may
help explain the unique genetics of the Redband trout (a
Modern-day Copco Lake, was formerly
called Clammittee Lake in the early 1900s and earlier, when
the Klamath River was held back into a lake by a natural
31-foot-tall lava dam, the smallest of several such
naturally formed volcanic dams that also blocked salmon
migration for millennia, and right up until the time that
Copco 1 Dam was built.
The 31-foot-tall lava dam blocking the
Klamath River, and the lake behind this natural dam,
Clammittee Lake, were present when the famous
engineer-dam-builder J.C. Boyle arrived at Ward’s Canyon to
begin work on the Copco 1 Dam. He was a man whose trade was
based-upon extreme accuracy, and he made a drawing of the
31-foot-tall lava dam and Clammittee Lake that was present
when he arrived at Ward’s Canyon to begin building Copco 1
Removing Copco Dam will merely allow
Copco Lake to once again settle down behind the remaining
31-foot-tall lava dam that is currently underwater in Copco
And quite troubling, the Klamath River
Renewal Corporation, a shell company formed by PacifiCorp,
whose sole mission is to destroy the dams, is also planning
on removing the natural rock dam by contouring the river
bottom of the wild and scenic Klamath River.
William E. Simpson II is a naturalist and rancher studying
natural resource management. He is the author of two published
books and more than 200 published articles on subjects related
to wildlife, wildfire, public forests and water management.
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