A late snowmelt is swelling rivers across the Northwest, creating a wild season for whitewater rafting. But guides on Oregon’s Upper Klamath River are worried plans to remove dams will mean the end of one of their best summer runs.
“Forward! And Reach!”
Six of us are paddling through a canyon cut from red volcanic rock. Our guide is a woman named Arden Prehn. She’s got tough arms. Prehn’s been a guide on the Upper Klamath for more than 20 years.
“I guide all the rivers in the area but this is the one I like this one the best. It’s the most exciting,” Prehn says.
Exciting because even late in the summer, big flows of water charge through this narrow canyon. Just upstream from our raft, Prehn points out the J.C. Boyle Dam and powerhouse. Every morning around 10, PacifiCorp releases a big pulse of water from the dam, she says.
“We actually wouldn’t have it to boat upon if they weren’t running the turbines. So we like the power company because they give us the water,” she says.
The reliable flows help guides book business in the summer, when they make the most money. The same water that’s powering air conditioners in California tosses our raft through rapid after rapid, past rocks and into standing waves. There are 40 rapids on this stretch of the river.
I survive the trip. And so does my camera and recorder.The whitewater turns flat. Our trip ends in the long reservoir above another dam, called Copco. A few of us decide to go for a swim and find we are sharing the reservoir with a family of otters.
PacifiCorp is pursuing plans to remove the J.C. Boyle and Copco dams. The rapids we just ran won’t disappear, but Prehn says they won’t be the same. Farms upriver from here draw water from the Klamath for summer irrigation. Without the predictable daily releases from the power company, the flow will drop, and the Klamath will only be good for rafting in the spring.
“It’s going to make me sad if I’m not able to boat this river,” Prehn says. “It’s my friend. We’ve had a lot of miles together and been through of changes together.”
But Prehn says she’s watched the Copco reservoir turn florescent green during the summer from algae growth, and is hopeful the dam removal will improve the water quality of the Klamath River. She’s willing to accept the change if it makes the river a better home for the otters and fish.
Congrats to David James for his winning submission, 'Annabella smelling the Balsam.'
Share your experiences as part of EarthFix's Public Insight Network.
Join our Public Insight Network!