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Millions for Klamath, Trinity Fed stimulus dollars targeted for fish, dam-removal study

by Nicholas Grube, The Triplicate April 17, 2009

Of the $260 million in federal stimulus money Interior Secretary Ken Salazar promised California this week to help address some of the state’s water issues, $8.5 million is allocated to the Klamath River and one of its main tributaries, the Trinity River.

The money, which is filtering through the Bureau of Reclamation, will be used for different projects on each river. On the Klamath, $4 million will be spent on sedimentation studies that will analyze the possible effects of dam removal, and the remaining $4.5 million will go toward restoring and enhancing fish habitat on the Trinity River.

Sedimentation studies are needed on the Klamath River in order to help the Department of Interior make a determination on whether or not four of PacifiCorp’s hydroelectric dams on the waterway should be removed.

“A key factor here in this investigation on the Klamath is to have the information needed to make a decision on removing the dams,” said Lynnette Wirth, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region. “Do the benefits of removing these dams outweigh the detriments of leaving them in?”

In November 2008, the Department of Interior, along with governors of California and Oregon, signed an “agreement in principle” with PacifiCorp to remove the J.C. Boyle, Iron Gate and Copco 1 and Copco 2 dams on the Klamath River. If the deal goes through it will be the largest dam removal in U.S. history, but first Interior officials need to weigh the environmental costs of taking out the hydroelectric structures and make a final determination by 2012.

Yurok Tribe Policy Analyst Troy Fletcher, who works intimately with the dam removal issue and settlement talks with various stakeholders, said he is looking forward to working with the Department of Interior on the upcoming studies, but he also acknowledges there’s a lot to be done before the dams actually come out.

“This influx of money will certainly help in this analysis of how we move forward in dam removal,” Fletcher said. “There’s just a boat load of information that we need to gather and we need to do it in a tranparent, thorough and objective way.”

Meanwhile, work on the Trinity River — one of the main tributaries to the Klamath — will revolve around rehabilitating the waterway’s channel and making it a better habitat for fish, such as chinook and coho salmon and steelhead.

“All of it goes back to aquatic habitat,” Wirth said, “ and what you need to do for the riparian habitat overall.”

Salazar made the announcement that California would receive $260 million from the administration’s economic stimulus package after he and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took an aerial tour of the Sacramento-San Juaquin Delta on Wednesday. The funds are to be used to address the state’s water supply and drought issues that stem from a burgeoning population and outdated infrastructure, such as reservoirs, canals and pumps, that are used to deliver water throughout California.

“In the midst of one of the deepest economic crises in our history, Californians have been saddled with a drought that is putting tens of thousands of people out of work and devastating entire communities,” Salazar said in a statement Wednesday. “From boosting water supplies and improving conservation to improving safety at our dams, these shovel-ready projects will make a real and immediate difference in the lives of farmers, businesses, Native American tribes and communities across California.”

Some of the other California projects the stimulus money will be used for include $109.8 million to build a screened pumping plant at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam to protect fish populations and deliver water to irrigators, $22.3 million to address safety concerns at Folsom Dam, and $26 million to aid the Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration project that aims to restore fish habitat in a tributary of the Sacramento River.

The $260 million is part of $1 billion the Department of?Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation is investing in water projects across the country as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
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