Tribes, Fishermen Sue PacifiCorp over Klamath Dams
LOS ANGELES -- Environmentalists, commercial fishermen and Native American tribes sued Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary PacifiCorp in San Francisco Wednesday, claiming that two of its dams on the Klamath River are killing salmon and causing human health hazards.
The lawsuit, led by environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Yurok and Karuk tribes, asks a federal court to force PacifiCorp to clean up toxic algae blooms in the reservoirs behind the Iron Gate and Copco dams in Northern California.
Other plaintiffs include river recreation business owners and the Klamath Riverkeeper group.
The annual algae blooms occur because PacifiCorp improperly controls the intake and release of water, allowing it to stagnate as temperatures in the reservoirs rise "well above natural levels," the lawsuit said.
The algae generates a deadly liver toxin that threatens the fishery and the health of tribal medicine men who bathe in the river during rituals, said co-counsel Joseph Cotchett of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy.
The dams "are having a devastating impact on the economies and cultures of Native Americans and others who depend on the Klamath River," Kennedy, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, said in a statement.
PacifiCorp, owned by a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, is pursuing renewals of its licenses to operate the dams with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
PacifiCorp has been working with 26 interested parties to find a solution to issues related to the relicensing for at least a couple of years, a company spokeswoman said, but added that the company had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.
The U.S. Department of the Interior last year recommended removing the dams or building "ladders" for the spawning fish if PacifiCorp wants to keep them.
The Klamath River salmon population, once one of the West Coast's most robust, has declined over the past two decades as the dams and declining water levels from farm irrigation blocked their spawning routes. Growers have objected to attempts by environmentalists to limit the amount of water they can divert from the river for their crops during dry years.