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PacifiCorp funding study of reservoir algae

ALGEA, by Dr. David Herfindahl from Siskiyou County Public Health, posted to KBC 11/7/05

11/04/2005 By JEFF BARNARD  / Associated Press

As a condition of its sale to MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., PacifiCorp has agreed to spend $450,000 to fund a three-year study of toxic algae found in the reservoirs behind two of its hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in Northern California.

PacifiCorp agreed to pay for the study in settlement talks with the Karuk Tribe as part of the sale approval proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission, said Dave Kwamme, a PacifiCorp spokesman.

The toxic algae will likely also become an issue in PacifiCorp's efforts to gain a new 50-year license to operate three Klamath dams near the Oregon-California border, which the tribes want to see removed or altered to allow salmon to return to the upper Klamath Basin for the first time in a century, said Craig Tucker, the tribe's Klamath Campaign coordinator.

"This is a forum for us to really make clear to MidAmerican what they are getting into," said Tucker. "The Klamath project is a very small part of PacifiCorp in terms of profits and power production. But it's a huge part of liability and contention among the Klamath Basin stakeholders."

Tucker said PacifiCorp needs clean water certification to qualify for a new federal license to operate the dams, and the algae could make that difficult.

ScottishPower, based in Glasgow, Scotland, announced plans last May to sell PacifiCorp to Warren Buffet-owned MidAmerican, based in Des Moines, Iowa, for $5.1 billion in cash and $4.3 billion in assumed debt and preferred stock.

PacifiCorp, based in Portland, Ore., serves 1.6 million customers in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.

"The study is meant to gather good scientific data," Kwamme said. A variety of state and federal agencies, as well as tribal and conservation groups and others, will develop the parameters of the study once the sale goes through, Kwamme said.

Kwamme said PacifiCorp had noticed the toxic algae, Microcystis aeruginosa, in water quality samplings two summers ago.

Susan Corum, water quality coordinator for the Karuk, said they visually identified the algae two summers ago, and samples taken in July confirmed it.

After the Karuk tribe publicized the very high levels of the algae 100 times a World Health Organization safety standard authorities posted warnings.

Jacob Kann, president of Aquatic Ecosystem Sciences in Ashland and a consultant to the tribe, said Microcystis aeruginosa commonly blooms in warm, slow-moving waters where there is a lot of phosphorus and nitrogen, nutrients commonly running off agricultural land. The algae is present upstream in Upper Klamath Lake and has been detected downstream in the Klamath River in slow-moving backwaters.

"The presence of the reservoirs creates the calm, less-mixed conditions that allow this particular species to have a competitive advantage over other algae," said Kann.

Kann said the algae can be fatal.

"Ingestion is the key," he said. "That's why we don't often see death. People don't generally drink these scummy areas. Dogs do. There have been a few reported dog and domestic animal deaths in the Copco-Irongate system."

The toxin affects the liver. At the highest levels detected in Copco lake, 1,995 micrograms per liter, a 40-pound child swallowing about a half cup of lake water would ingest 275 times the acceptable daily intake set by the World Health Organization, Kann said.

Kann said the algae is common across the country. It is not clear when the blooms began in Irongate and Copco reservoirs, but the buildup of agricultural chemicals over time, plus a warming climate, could have contributed to them. Also, people are looking for it more now than in the past.

 

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