Iron Gate Dam. Image from

I went to the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon last week for a slew of meetings and to attend a public hearing on the proposed removal of four dams on the Klamath River in 2020. Several community members stood before a panel of officials and court reporters in support of dam removal. A few did not. Of these, one older man stood out more than the others.

At the mic he introduced himself first as a member of the Republican party then as a tax payer. He said that he, and the American tax payer, was unwilling to pay for the removal of the dams, and the restoration of the Klamath to a free-flowing, fish-supporting river. He said there was no evidence that removal would not cause greater problems in the basin, that the dams were necessary, and that any sort of change would be in violation of the wants of the people.

I was at the meeting to observe and listen. So even though I had plenty to say, I didn’t stand up and make a public, recorded comment to be included in the official documents presented to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. At the time, I thought remaining quiet was the right thing, but I keep thinking about that older man, and all the men and women who spoke at the meeting either for or against dam removal.

I should have stood up. I should have said that even though I’m not from the Klamath, and even though I’ve spent only a few days wandering the basin, walking the rivers, I love the land. How the light spills across the water of Upper Klamath Lake and dances in the currents of the twin rivers. How the aspens and alders seem to explode with color even though few slow to watch. How the fog sits low in the valleys in the morning turning the cattle into ghostly shadows.

I should have said that though I work hard, I don’t make much money. But that I’m a young person with a lot of working years in front of me and what I do make I pay tax on. I should have said that the old man who spoke for “American taxpayers” didn’t speak for me. That my tax paying years were just getting started while his were likely winding down. And that even though I didn’t agree with many ways the political system is run, I was willing to pay the taxes I pay now, plus some, if it meant that the Klamath and rivers throughout the west were given half a chance to run free. That’s what I should have said.

To learn more about Klamath Basin water issues, or to read and comment on the EIS/EIR, visit: