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Agency analyzes impacts of removing Klamath River dams

   by GEORGE PLAVEN, Capital Press, Jan 4, 2019

 Plans to remove four hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River would benefit the region far more than keeping them in place, according to a draft environmental impact report by the California State Water Resources Control Board.


The nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corp. has proposed taking out the Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2 and Iron Gate dams in California, as well as the J.C. Boyle Dam in Oregon. The dams provide much of the region's electricity but block access to about 400 miles of habitat for salmon and steelhead in the Klamath River and its tributaries.


The KRCC filed its "Definite Plan" to remove the dams with federal energy regulators in June 2018, providing the blueprints for drawing down reservoirs and protecting natural resources.


But first, the project must secure a Section 401 permit under the Clean Water Act to work in the river.


Organization CEO Mark Bransom said the 1,800-page environmental review, released Dec. 27, is the first step toward that process in California.


"This draft report is a key step to completing this critical project and rehabilitating one of the great rivers of the American West," Bransom said in a statement. "It's a sign of meaningful progress and I look forward to a thorough KRRC review of the report and its proposals."


The report lays out effects both positive and negative of dam removal, including impacts on air quality, water quality, recreation, agriculture and fire suppression. It also lists measures to avoid, mitigate and offset potential negative impacts.


Overall, the California State Water Resources Control Board determined the project "would result in significantly more identified benefits for environmental resources," compared to trying to improve fish passage at the dams.


As for concerns the project could reduce the amount of surface water in the river, the board found there would be no significant impact, since removing the four lower Klamath dams would not impact the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's role in balancing flows for farms and fish out of Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon.


"KRRC is pleased that, after considering the full range of project benefits and impacts, the (report) looked favorably on the proposed project," Bransom said.


Following a particularly deadly 2018 wildfire season in northern California, the KRRC acknowledged that removing dams will eliminate several water sources for fighting large blazes, though the organization is coordinating with agencies such as Cal Fire, the Oregon Department of Forestry, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management to identify viable alternatives.


Specifically, air crews will be able to draw water from nearby deep pools in the Klamath River, Lake Ewauna and Upper Klamath Lake using a bucket and long line. The KRRC also plans to install dry fire hydrants for ground crews at lakes and ponds.


The draft environmental report is available for public review and comment until Feb. 26. A final report is expected to be released later during the summer. The KRRC has said it hopes to begin dam deconstruction by 2021.



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