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Parties Keep Up Pressure As Klamath Dam Removal Proceeds

Capital Press 8/10/16
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Both sides in the debate over removing four dams from the Klamath River are keeping the pressure on as the project moves forward.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe is suing federal agencies to improve flows in the lower Klamath River for endangered coho salmon — a goal that proponents say could be achieved if the dams came out.

Tribal chairman Ryan Jackson said disease rates in juvenile salmon in the past two years have soared well beyond limits established in a 2013 biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service, and that even those limits don’t meet standards set in tribal trusts.

“It’s not so much to do with dam removal per se, although certainly that’s a part of it,” Jackson said of the tribe’s goals behind the lawsuit. “The lawsuit really gets down to the protection of the fishery and the needs for increased flows and enhanced water quality.”

The lawsuit follows the Karuk Tribe’s filing in late June of a 60-day notice of intent to sue the NMFS and Bureau of Reclamation over alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act. The tribe cites a disease infection rate of 90 percent of sampled juvenile salmon in 2015.

The tribes assert that low water levels in the lower Klamath River are too warm for fish and are polluted with nutrients and chemicals. The legal actions lend a sense of urgency as the Karuks and others are engaged in water-sharing negotiations with federal agencies and upper Klamath Basin irrigators.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can add a disease-management flow event,” said Craig Tucker , the Karuk Tribe’s natural resources policy advocate. “We think that dam removal will alleviate the problem, but we need something between now and dam removal. We can’t just allow 90 percent of juvenile salmon in the river to succumb to these diseases.”

Shane Hunt , a Reclamation spokesman in Sacramento , said the bureau doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The filings come as dam-removal plans agreed on earlier this year are moving forward. The newly formed Klamath River Renewal Corporation , a non-government body taking over the dams from owner PacifiCorp , will likely file for removal with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before the end of August, said Nancy Vogel , a California Natural Resources Agency spokeswoman.

Top state and federal officials signed an agreement in April to have the nonprofit organization go through FERC to remove the dams after legislation authorizing their removal failed to make it through Congress by the end of 2015. Proponents are still seeking federal legislation that would provide money to operate two diversion dams within the basin that PacifiCorp would turn over to Reclamation so irrigators wouldn’t have to pick up the cost.

Political opposition to dam removal remains vocal in the basin, including from Lawrence Kogan , a former Klamath Irrigation District attorney who’s now working through his own nonprofit advocacy organization to raise questions about the project.

The KID’s newly elected majority hired Kogan earlier this year to scrutinize the dam-removal process but cut ties with him in mid-July when some board members thought the New York -based attorney had overstepped his contract, the Klamath Falls Herald and News reported. Acting district manager Darin Kandra did not return calls from the Capital Press seeking comment.

Kogan has since sent public-records requests to the Bureau of Reclamation and five state agencies seeking the details of behind-the-scenes discussions of the amended dam-removal and water-sharing agreements, including how needed irrigation canal improvements would be funded.

“These are things that are public information,” said Kogan, adding that “half of the basin doesn’t know what’s going on and has been kept in the dark” because of non-disclosure agreements among the agencies.

Ed Sheets , who facilitates a committee implementing the Klamath agreements, said all of the bargained-for benefits in the pacts “were clearly spelled out” for those in the basin that would be affected.

“On a larger scale, there’s been some conversations between the tribes and irrigators to see if some of the things (in the original Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement) can be put back together,” Sheets said. “That’s going to be a complicated process.”



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