Dam It or Not?

Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher
Thursday, March 10, 2016

A century of water control, a decade of conflict, a round table of perspectives. Last week in Global Thinking class we simulated a mediation circle of the Klamath River Dam Conflict. Based on student research on the issue, our simulation examined the multitude of perspectives that contribute to the ongoing struggles of the Klamath River basin along the border of California and Oregon. The Klamath River has been dammed for over a century, and as the leases on several of the dams begin to expire the future of the dams, and thus the future of the landscape and health of the river basin, are brought into question. We took to the task of analyzing the options: to dam or not to dam?

In preparation for the simulated mediation, students first outlined all of the parties involved in the conflict. This included local fisherfolk, indigenous communities, industrial agriculture enterprises, state and national governments, and Pacificorp, the giant corporation who built the dams for hydro-electricity. We then broke into small groups to dig further into the perspectives of each party involved. We found that the dams have affected each party in unique ways. If the dams remain, ecosystems would continue to be altered and salmon populations would be further endangered, threatening the livelihoods of the already marginalized indigenous communities that have lived along the river for generations. If the dams come down, large-scale farms and ranches up stream would lose a hefty portion of their irrigation source. And who would fund the removal or refurbishing of the dams?

It was incredible to watch students come alive as they took on the roles of those affected by the decision. Fisherfolk went head to head with Big Ag; representatives of indigenous communities called on the government to uphold their protective agreements; even Mother Nature herself had a voice at the table! To say that the simulation was exciting would be an understatement. As a perfectly appropriate mirror to the reality of the issue, we were of course unable to come to consensus in a mere class period. The activity nonetheless provided a powerful demonstration of the intersection between multiple perspectives, systemic violence, media literacy, environmental justice and other themes we've been exploring in class throughout the semester. And it was a wonderful segway into the water trip the following weekend where students put theoretical learning into practice!

Photo Caption: Students gather with local river scientist, Chris Friedel, at Englebright Dam to discuss hyrdraulic mining and the impact on Yuba salmon populations.

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