Page E2.1 . 07 October 2009                     
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    Postcard from Klamath Falls

    ArchWeek Image

    The twin electric generators of the John C. Boyle Hydroelectric Project on the Klamath River in southern Oregon, opened in 1958 and now planned for removal. Kevin Matthews / ArtificeImages

    ArchWeek Image

    Kevin Matthews / ArtificeImages

    ArchWeek Image

    Kevin Matthews / ArtificeImages

    ArchWeek Image

    Kevin Matthews / ArtificeImages

     

    Click on thumbnail images to view full-size pictures.


     
    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    Seeing them as pure object form in the landscape, a poignant aesthetic of contrasts entwines these manmade elements with their landscape — muscular diversion canal snaking improbably high along the canyon walls, diminished river following below — huge steel penstock tubes dropping hundreds of feet from some apparently random spot on the hillside — the two round generators themselves, framed by their own dedicated traveling crane, bridging over the outwash beneath, loud rushing to rejoin the native waters.

    More pernicious contradictions underlie these visualizations. The John C. Boyle Hydroelectric Project on the upper Klamath River in southern Oregon includes one of the four salmon-blocking dams that are planned to be removed under a historic conceptual agreement among the many and divergent stakeholder groups.

    Consequences, of the Christo-esque contrasts between the grace of a wild and scenic river and the mass of industrial hydroelectric production infrastructure, start with the near-extinction of a once-fabulously productive vast watershed of salmon spawning streams.

    The conflicts are myriad between use of water for natural ecosystem purposes like salmon, and human-specific purposes, including electric power generation and irrigation.

    A popular river-rafting put-in lies just below the John C. Boyle project — because above it, the river water is both tamed and usurped, with too much in the slack flooded canyon above the dam, and too little in the relative trickle that remains undiverted.

    Acknowledging that the recovery of hundreds of square miles of irreplaceable native watershed outweighs the loss of a few very-replaceable megawatts of generating capacity, and assuming negotiations are successful and the four Klamath dams are breached, an interesting design issue remains.

    How important is it that some or all of the industrial infrastructure be removed? Is it vital that the river canyons be restored entirely to a pristine state, as if these feats of engineering had never happened?

    Or might it be acceptable — or even desirable, in some terms at least, if it could be done without continuing ecological harm — to leave some portion of this heroic infrastructure in place, as a possibly fitting memorial to the grand industrial excesses of the 20th century?

    On the road in Klamath Falls,

    Kevin Matthews
    Editor in Chief
    ArchitectureWeek

     
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