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"Science and the Secretarial Determination" - Klamath River Dam removal

December 10, 2010 by Marcia Armstrong, Siskiyou County Supervisor, Ridin' Point, column in Siskiyou Daily News
Klamath Dam Agreements: Recently I attended the briefing on “Science and the Secretarial Determination” regarding Klamath River dam removal. Mark Stopher of the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) outlined three upcoming decision points: (1) the determination by Dept. of Interior Secretary Salazar by March 2012 whether or not to remove the dams; (2) the determination by the Governors of (2) California and (3) Oregon whether or not to concur with the Secretary on his decision. Because the Secretarial and Governors decisions will be an “action” under the National Environmental Policy Act and California Environmental Quality Act, they will require an environmental impact analysis with associated mitigations to offset identified impacts.

Dennis Lynch of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) spoke about criteria that the Secretary will use in his determination. The questions to be answered are: (1) whether dam removal will be in the public interest; (2) whether dam removal can be done within the state cost cap; and (3) whether it will advance salmon restoration. They have also included implementation of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) in their analysis as it has been tied to the Klamath Hydro Settlement Agreement (KHSA.)

Lynch leads a “Technical Management Team” (TMT) of agency scientists that are filling in the data and information gaps for the Secretarial Determination and environmental impact analysis processes (EIR/EIS.) He stated that he is striving for an open and objective process with high quality science. The TMT will peer review any new reports and critique existing reports. Expert Panels will be held to address questions regarding impacts to various fish species. An “Overview Report” will be prepared prior to the Secretarial Determination which will include the supporting scientific information to help answer the three questions posed by the determination. This will be presented to the public for comment next summer. The joint state and federal environmental impact report/statement (EIR/EIS) regarding dam removal and the KBRA recommending a preferred alternative and identifying mitigations for environmental impacts will also be released for public review next summer.  

Lynch stated that one of the TMT teams has been working on a plan for dam removal and associated costs. A draft has been completed and it is being peer reviewed. The TMT will also examine “partial dam removal” – where concrete structures are notched and largely left in place, yet allowing for a free-flowing river.  At the meeting, I asked if the team had contacted our Public Works or Community Health and Planning Departments to determine if the plan was acceptable under local law and to determine likely mitigations for roads and material disposal that would be required under Siskiyou County’s Demolition Ordinance to include under their cost estimates. He replied that they had not contacted County agencies. This is an example how large costs may be intentionally understated by using false assumptions about plan design and its feasibility.

The group will also look at various reservoir draw-down scenarios, examining the sequence among the several reservoirs and effects of seasonal timing. They will also look at restoring habitat in the exposed bottom lands, effects on Yreka’s Water Supply facilities and examination of the various costs.

The hydrologic model to compare Klamath River conditions with dams in and dams out will use water quality data from 1961-2009 included in the most recent Klamath Project Biological Opinion for coho. Because of legal requirements, the “dams in” scenario will describe conditions as they were in 1981 for California and 1994 for Oregon. The “dams out” scenario will assume that programs included in the KBRA will be implemented. (This includes voluntary water purchases, a drought plan and a change in water allocations to the National Wildlife Refuges in the Upper Basin.)

On the Klamath Restoration website created for the KHSA and KBRA, (http://klamathrestoration.gov/   - Oct. 13.) we can see an outline of the ”habitat restoration” plan being created for the area below Iron Gate Dam – including the Scott and Shasta Valleys. This plan was created by the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CA Dept. of Fish and Game, the Karuk and the Yurok tribes without participation or input by Siskiyou County, the Flood Control and Water Conservation District, local watershed councils, landowners or the public. It includes such actions as: the purchase of water use rights; the purchase of conservation easements, surface and groundwater studies, stream channel reconfiguration and water conservation and management. I asked when more detail on the plan would be available, since the cumulative impact of taking land out of agricultural production will have a direct impact on Siskiyou County’s economy and culture.   No details will be considered in the impact analysis, another situation where impacts to the mid-Klamath are being greatly understated. 

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