|Klamath consultation in
Fishery agencies demand specifics
Moore, Capital Press 11/24/06
Two federal fishery agencies have told the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it needs to
be more specific before starting any Klamath
River consultation under the Endangered Species
On top of that, in filings last week with
the FERC, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation warned
the agency that it seems to be considering
ordering downstream flows that exceed existing
water rights for the four hydroelectric dams
that PacifiCorp wants to license.
Phil Detrich, field supervisor of U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service’s Klamath office,
has put off a December Endangered Species
Act consultation over Klamath hydroelectric
PacifiCorp has a 225-cubic-foot-per-second Oregon
water right for power generation at Keno, Ore.,
where diversion begins for the dams.
The FERC in early October proposed a round of
consultations between state and federal agencies to
satisfy ESA requirements. They are scheduled for
Dec. 12-14 in Redding, Calif. The filings by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine
Fisheries Service and Reclamation put that part of
the complex relicensing process in doubt.
PacifiCorp's 50-year license to operate expired
early this year. The power company is operating on a
year-to-year extension while new license conditions
"The (Fish and Wildlife) Service has determined that
insufficient information has been provided to
initiate formal consultation because the proposed
action for the license is not fully developed,"
wrote Phil Detrich, field supervisor of the USFWS
office in Yreka, Calif.
The FERC last week began a round of public hearings
on a draft environmental impact statement that gives
four alternatives for issuing a Klamath license.
Hearings end Nov. 29, and the final EIS is expected
However, under federal law, it's up to the
five-member commission to pick terms for the
license. To complicate things, private talks between
stakeholders continue, and they could yield
conditions different from those in the draft EIS.
"Formal consultation of proposed actions that are
not well defined or developed would require an
unnecessary commitment of agency time and
resources," Detrich wrote.
He also reminded FERC staff that it issued the draft
EIS without waiting for an administrative law
judge's findings on factual issues challenged by
Toby Freeman, in charge of PacifiCorp's relicensing
team, said two weeks ago that the "high profile" of
the Klamath gives it special attention with the FERC.
In 2001 ESA considerations upstream of all but two
small generation plants not part of PacifiCorp's
application led Reclamation to renege on water
delivery contracts to 1,100 farms; the next summer
tens of thousands of returning salmon died of
disease while "kegged up" in the lower river; then
this year anticipated low returns of fall chinook
led to a near-total ban on commercial salmon fishing
of 700 miles of coast off Oregon and California.
Klamath coho salmon, under ESA protection since
1997, are at the heart of NMFS biological opinions
controlling downstream discharge of water released
from Reclamation's Klamath Project reservoirs.
Both NMFS and the FWS want fish passage restored
above the lowest dam, favoring construction of
fishways or removal of the dams. FERC staff proposed
a less-expensive "trap and haul" system that would
carry migrating fish around the dams by truck.
In the upper basin, the FWS gives ESA protection to
two kinds of sucker fish native to basin lakes and
streams, plus bald eagles, Northern spotted owls,
bull trout, a frog and several plants threatened
with extinction. Reservoir levels are dictated by a
sucker fish biological opinion.
Rodney McInnis, the regional NMFS administrator,
told the FERC, "There is no way to tell how much of
the staff (proposed) alternative will end up as part
of the proposed action." He filed a 15-page letter
with copies to dozens of Klamath stakeholders.
The bottom line is McInnis' insistence that the ESA
requires a description of "the action" to be
considered, not a suite of alternate actions. NMFS
also said federal law required additional
consultations, beyond the ESA, because the Klamath
is home to several migratory fish in addition to
Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail
address is tmoore@capital press.com.