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Decision-makers must understand Klamath uncertainties
By Dr. PAUL R. HOUSER For the Capital Press June 29, 2012
After I questioned the accuracy of science reporting and summary documents related to the Klamath Secretarial Decision, I faced systematic reprisal and my job as the Bureau of Reclamation's science adviser was terminated.
Subsequently, I filed a scientific integrity allegation, and was invited to speak publicly about it in May. I was confronted with a wide range of questions, where I carefully offered my opinion or relevant information.
Last week Dennis Lynch of the U.S. Geological Survey questioned some of this information. Below I summarize the rationale for my comments, and offer some additional perspective.
* He states that "our team summarized these findings in an Overview Report that received a second layer peer review from six independent experts." He fails to mention the peer review comment 3-5: "The Summary and Findings section does not sufficiently express the uncertainties in the responses to restoration options," which is generally consistent with my allegation. These concerns should be addressed by writing a new summary that accurately portrays the dam removal uncertainties and risks, and the additional actions needed to meet the environmental and societal goals.
* He disagrees with my comment that a more in-depth engineering analysis is needed to assure that Iron Gate Dam is removed safely. My comment was based on an environmental impact statement and report comment submitted by Stephen Koshy, who warned that notching the earth-filled Iron Gate Dam may cause it to fail. This concern can be addressed by providing a public response to Koshy along with the relevant engineering analyses.
* Lynch disagrees with my comment that the sediment coming out of the dams would be the equivalent volume of 1 to 3 feet covering 190 miles of a 150-foot-wide channel. The sediment volume studies have discrepancies, but my volume equivalency calculations are correct.
Further, the draft environmental impact statement and report states: "Short-term (2 years) aggradation of sediment from the dams could be substantial below Iron Gate Dam downstream to Willow Creek, with up to 5 feet of deposition within 0.5 miles downstream of the dam, to 1.5 feet of deposition near Willow Creek." Downstream impacts of sediment are a significant concern, so alternate options such as dredging may also need to be more seriously considered.
* He disagrees with my concerns that the released sediments may be harmful to fish, and may have a significant impact for 1-2 years. The draft environmental impact statement and report states, "...the short-term (up to 2 years following dam removal) increases in (suspended sediment) in the lower Klamath River and the Klamath estuary would be a significant impact."
Water quality and reservoir sedimentation in the Klamath Basin are very complex issues. While a 2011 Department of the Interior report did show that the reservoir sediments have toxic elements below most guidelines, the upper basin is well known to have water and sediment quality issues, and these sediments are being deposited in the reservoirs.
A 2006 PacifiCorp study concludes that the absence of the project reservoirs would exacerbate water quality impairment by reducing dissolved oxygen and promoting growth of algae. Water quality issues above the dams may be among the most significant risks to successful river restoration; these water quality issues should be mitigated prior to dam removal.
* Finally, Lynch objects to my statement that non-native Coho salmon were introduced in the Klamath starting in 1895. A 2002 California Department of Fish and Game report confirms my statement and further indicates that "historically, the practice of importing non-native fish was common...."
The draft environmental impact statement and report also states that "the vast majority of Coho salmon that spawn in the Klamath Basin are believed to be of hatchery origin, although the percentage varies among years." Based on the century-long history of non-native salmon transfers and hatchery origin fish, it would be tough to identify a truly native wild Klamath Coho. Nonetheless, it is the law to protect them.
The outcomes of dam removal on this scale and in this unique environment have significant risks and uncertainties. A positive outcome is not guaranteed and a tragic outcome is possible.
There are several innovative and economical solutions to meet the Klamath Basin goals that are not being actively considered because they fall outside the politics of the Klamath agreements. It is in the public trust, and a duty of scientific integrity to seriously consider these alternatives.
My goal is to make sure that decision-makers are aware of these risks and uncertainties, and account for them in their decision-making process. By only reporting the positive aspects of dam removal without the uncertainties and additional needed mitigation, the meaning of the science is perturbed, which may lead to poor decisions.
Paul R. Houser is an internationally recognized hydrologist with over 25 years of experience. More information can be found at www.prhouser.com .
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