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Klamath Dam removal could be a calamity

Commentary by Ph.D. Dr. Menke on Dan Walters: Warren Buffet and Oregon farmers could get a gift from California taxpayers, Sacramento Bee.

Dan Walters article follows Dr. Menke's commentary


An article by Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee of Friday, November 25 has prompted a reply by John W. Menke, A.A., B.S., M.S., Ph.D., retired professor UC Davis and UC Berkeley (1973-98). Dr. Menke has also been a rancher in Quartz Valley near Fort Jones for 18+ years. This area is part of the Klamath River Watershed.

The article entitled: “Dan Walters: Warren Buffet and Oregon farmers could get a gift from California taxpayers,” which can be read in full at http://www.sacbee.com/2011/11/25/4078681/dan-walters-warren-buffett-and.html makes a powerful point.

Dr. Menke makes a great many additional points that should be read carefully by anyone who is trying to understand the question of Klamath Dam removal, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA).

As Dr. Menke concludes, among many other negative and unintended consequences, the removal of the four dams could create one of the greatest man-made calamities in the history of the West. Here is the text of Dr. Menke’s response to Walter’s article:

“The potential increase of salmon and steelhead trout production in the Klamath River Watershed from dam removal has been severely compromised by the Federal government's deal (KBRA--Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement) with the Upper Klamath Basin Indian Tribes to send most of the previously used Upper Klamath Basin irrigators' water down the river year-round.  The benefit of very low natural (pre-1918 dams) summertime flows will continue to be foregone because the agreed-upon flows following dam removal will be too high to allow the sun to kill diseases in the 'infectious zone' below the mouth of the Shasta River where most of the out-migrating juvenile steelhead trout, coho salmon and Chinook salmon linger and get infected most years. The most sensitive steelhead has essentially been eliminated in returns to Iron Gate Fish Hatchery, and the same has occurred to coho salmon returns to the Shasta River.  Chinook salmon returns are maintained purely due to excessive hatchery rearing, and also production of yearling Chinook salmon juveniles as it is wholly unnatural for this species to be in freshwater at this advanced age.

 “The multi-mile-long infectious zone in the Klamath River has been thoroughly studied by Oregon State University fish pathologists, and the only solution to that death-trap is to allow Mother Nature to do what she always did for millions of years: desiccate the mostly-dry Klamath River streambed by sunshine each summer. This is a unique need of this river because of the extremely high natural phosphorus soils and parent volcanic rock materials of the Upper Klamath Basin, and the unusually warm headwaters of the upper Klamath River.  Too-warm water, coupled with too-high a concentration of available nutrients, maximizes disease incidence and algaes which have their own effects.

“Before the dams were built, low-summertime flows naturally caused a die-off of native polychaete worm populations living in the streambed below aquatic plants rooted on the streambed due to solarization (intense desiccating heat and solar radiation by the sun).  The polychaete worm is the vector of disease to the fish. Since 1918 the dams on the Klamath River have intercepted sediments from the Upper Klamath Basin, but replacement of irrigators' concrete irrigation diversion dams on the Shasta River by boulder weirs or pumps to facilitate upstream migration of juvenile coho salmon since Federal listing in 1997, has enhanced the downstream Klamath River rooting habitat for aquatic plants and caused the infectious zone due to sediment deposition from the Shasta River.  This unintended consequence of diversion dam removal was not understood until the nutrient Total Maximum Daily Load assessment was done for the Shasta River in 2006.

“Since COPCO built the dams beginning in 1918 and PacifiCorp's desire to generate power all summer long every year has allowed this disease vector to develop unknowingly and caused massive death of out-migrating juvenile salmon and steelhead from Iron Gate Hatchery, Bogus Creek, and the Shasta River--so-called 'salmon heaven' by CalTrout and the Shasta Resource Conservation District.  Had a simple condition been required for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) re-licensing of PacifiCorp's hydroelectric power generation permit--extremely low flows during a month to six-weeks each summer--the infectious zone and depressed salmon and steelhead production in the Klamath River Basin could have been avoided or could be avoided without dam removal now.  One Environmental Protection Agency joint-staff person, who also happens to be a California State Water Quality Control Board staff-appointee, stopped the FERC re-license to bring PacifiCorp under control.  This Santa Rosa, California, Agenda 21 Transition City-based staffer almost single-handedly assured the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) by stopping FERC re-licensing of PacifiCorp's dams.

“The never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste attitude of the Federal government [has] caused it to modify its mission mid-stream to kill off agricultural enterprises in the Upper Klamath Basin, the Shasta and Scott Valleys, to re-wild the whole Klamath River Watershed, and to propose the most massive reconstruction of wetland habitat in the history of the World.  The late-1980s maturity of the 1905-initiated, now 106-year-old, Klamath Reclamation Project has succeeded in replacing putrid wetlands and contaminated water with a fine agricultural production system of land use and superbly bio-remediated downstream Klamath River water below the dams; however, now the Federal government proposes, in effect, to reconstruct the pre-1905 condition.

“The only winner in this proposed program is government agency employment to oversee the regressive projects involved.  Delusional on-project agricultural producers have banked on the honesty of KBRA stakeholders to allow them to practice agriculture.  Nothing could be further from the truthful outcome of this melodrama of the future if the KBRA/KHSA happens.

“The remarkable willingness of the Department of Interior agencies and California and Oregon State agencies to flush 21-million cubic yards of sediment down the Wild and Scenic Klamath River in the face of Clean Water Act restrictions is a clear indication that this Klamath River Watershed issue is not about the fish, it is about control of private land and water rights pure and simple and taxpayer money paid to agencies and lobbying stakeholders.  In actuality, the estimated 20.4 million cubic yards of sediment assuming that 84% washes down the Klamath River, is the equivalent sediment to cover a 2-lane, 24-foot-wide standard highway one-foot-deep in sediment the equivalent of 3,651 miles which is farther than the distance from San Francisco to New York City.  As the expert panel statement implied, it would likely kill the Klamath River for at least 100 years.  The sediment must be dredged out prior to dam removal.  The behavior of the Federal and State agencies involved is scientific misconduct pure and simple!”

-- John W. Menke, A.A., B.S., M.S., Ph.D., retired professor UC Davis and UC Berkeley (1973-98) and rancher in Quartz Valley, Fort Jones, CA, Klamath River Watershed for 18+ years.



Dan Walters: Warren Buffett and Oregon farmers could get a gift from California taxpayers


The California Oregon Power Co. was founded in 1911 to supply electricity to residents and businesses in the southernmost Oregon counties and the northernmost California counties. It built four hydroelectric power dams on the Klamath River.

The Klamath cuts across California's northwestern corner and is incredibly remote, much of it virtually inaccessible. Until those dams were built, blocking spawning runs, it supported an immense salmon and steelhead fishery that sustained Indian tribes living along its banks.

COPCO merged with Pacific Power and Light Co., which serves huge swaths of several states in the Pacific Northwest, in 1961. PP&L eventually changed its name to PacificCorp and in 2005 was acquired by Warren Buffett, the second-richest man in America.

Those Klamath River dams have become very contentious factors in a controversy over how the river's waters should be managed, involving not only their effect on fish, but the water supplies of farmers in the Klamath basin, the Southern Oregon region where the river begins.

While Indian tribes and commercial fishermen demand elimination of the dams to restore fish runs, farmers worry about irrigation water – a concern underscored a few years ago when the feds virtually shut down their supplies.

The factions have worked out a deal to remove the four dams and restore fish habitat, while – at least in theory – protecting water supplies for those Klamath basin farmers. California Congressman Mike Thompson, a Democrat who represents the North Coast, and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, have introduced legislation to implement it.

However, a big sticking point is its cost, about a billion dollars. Thompson and Merkley want the federal government to pay half, which is already drawing opposition in a Republican-controlled Congress. PacificCorp would pay about a quarter. The remaining $250 million?

The two legislators say it would come from "non-federal sources."

They don't say that it would come from California taxpayers, specifically a $250 million chunk of the $11.1 billion state water bond that is scheduled to go before voters next year.

And why should California taxpayers be on the hook?

The dams' removal would have no effect, positive or negative, on our water supply. The semiofficial rationale – weak at best – is that improving fish runs on the Klamath would offset losses of habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

But the bottom line is that, with interest on the bonds, it's a half-billion- dollar gift from California taxpayers to Oregon farmers and Buffett, because PacificCorp would otherwise have to pay for the dams' removal or attempt to get them relicensed, a virtual impossibility.

Given the season, one could say that the deal is a real turkey.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.


Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters

 Read more articles by Dan Walters


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  • samr
    It does seem strange that Dan Walters is concerned about the fact that if the $11 billion GENERAL OBLIGATION water bond passes we California taxpayers will be putting $250 million into the Klamath dam removal effort. 

    Why doesn't Dan spend a proportionate amount of time examining the question of where the other $10.9 billion in the pork laden Bondoogle will be going?  Some to grease the skids for a very unpopular Peripheral Canal or Tunnel; some to pay for the so-called "public benefit" portion of the economically and environmentally disastrous surface water storage projects affectionally known as Temperance Fats and the Sites Great Evaporation Pond; quite a bit going to a plethora of decent projects (but pork nonetheless) that were put into the $11.1 billion bond at the last minute in order to "buy" the necessary votes to put the damned thing on the ballot.

    How do general obligation bonds get paid off?  Right out of the State's General Fund.  And where does the money come from that goes into the General Fund?  Yes, Virginia, from your and my tax dollars.  And how much will come out of the General Fund each year to pay the debt service on the $11.1 billion Bondoogle bonds?  Estimates from Lockyer's office say about $800 million a year.  So, who loses?  The students, law enforcement agencies, disabled folks, and all the other Californians who would have shared in that $800 million if there had been no Bondoogle.  So, who wins?  Powerful interests like Westlands and Kern Water Districts and Stu Resnick who love it when the public pays for water projects that primarily benefit the water buffalos and arbitragers.

    But fear not, the public is getting smart about this kind of hanky panky.  The chances of that Bondoogle general obligation water bond passing in anywhere near its present form are about as good as the chances of my wife winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.
  • fredtyg
    samr wrote, "The chances of that Bondoogle general obligation water bond passing in 
    anywhere near its present form are about as good as the chances of my 
    wife winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.

    You forget. We're talking California, and California voters, here.
  • rpage
    Of course these measures do get put together with the idea that they will attract environmental and other interests that would support them and the overall-wisdom lost in the process.  What really needs to happen is that the unions that have so much at stake have to tell their representatives - no more spending on nice-to-haves - period.  If you do it or do so much as put it on the ballot there will be no support from us - nada!  If the top two candidate initiative survives challenge it will be crucial for folks to get commitments on this kind of thing.
  • zofo
    Is it really a bad deal if the historical number of salmon return to this system.And yes i know it's a big if.But the alternative of doing nothing will insure that salmon will never recover.If we can bring this fishery back we are talking about permanent jobs,bringing back the fishing fleet and billions of dollars generated.The sport fishing alone would be world class with people coming from all over the globe to spend their money in Norcal.It sounds pie in the sky wishful thinking and it is but we have to try.The consequences of not trying means the loss of a natural resource that doesn't reqiure any Gov. subsidies to exist.
  • kareny
    True, but there's no reason with California's recession & with Californians suffering due to job loss that we taxpayers should give $250 million to Warren Buffet so he can remove those dams. He's so rich, let him pay to remove those dams.
  • rpage
    You've raised some good issues.   However, the money is a government payment that we, our children and grandchildren will have to pay and the benefits need to be closely and thoroughly examined to determine whether they are worth it.  How many salmon for example?  The electricity generation lost will have to be replaced at what cost?   The other beneficial uses of the water no longer in storage (for food production or whatever other purposes) will have to replaced or those benefits again lost and at what cost?  Before we spend money we need to look very closely at these kinds of tradeoffs.  Replacing something that exists today that was built long ago is going to be a lot more expensive and that suggests we do it only if it has been carefully studied.
  • Dark Hawk 98 , Dedicated public servant of the State of California for the last 23 years.
    Allow me to add to the benefits that need to be included in the analysis.  Recent studies have identified that salmon, their carcasses and the poop of those animals that eat salmon (bears, eagles, raccoons, coyotes etc) all help to increase the fertility of the lands within 800 feet of the stream bank. This is now established science.  The Klamath River Basin is some of the most fertile timber lands in the world.  the critters do all the fertilizing  and we benefit. good stuff.
  • rpage
    I'm sure the benefits are noteworthy.  I was only asking that they be quantified as well as enumerated before we spend a billion dollars on them.
  • Dark Hawk 98 , Dedicated public servant of the State of California for the last 23 years.
    If you were to review the records to date regarding what has already transpired you would find the answer to your concerns.  

    2008 Seattle Times news article. 


    Here is a study about historical record of anadromous fish prior to the dams. 

    and here is a scientific paper discussing 5 years of dissolved oxygen data collected on the Klamath River and its tributaries. (almost 2 million data points). 


  • rpage
    So what would they tell me about the dollar value of all the benefits and have the studies been peer-reviewed by others, including independent scientists?  Most importantly, has a complete economic analysis been done to determine the cost and costs of alternative mitigation?  Perhaps they have but that isn't apparent from your post and Mr. Walters should be informed.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/11/25/4078681/dan-walters-warren-buffett-and.html#ixzz1eypZPPPq
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