Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Second take: The water agreement
Decision on water agreement rests with Interior Secretary
Eighth in an ongoing series
By LEE JUILLERAT November 27, 2009
The jockeying continues, but if the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement moves ahead, and if a series of studies dealing with issues like toxicity, water quality, fish survival and the benefits of dam removal are completed, what happens in 2012?
Under the current timetable, that’s the year Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is charged with determining through due diligence if the restoration agreement, with provisions to remove four Klamath River dams, is in the public interest.
All that raises the question: What criteria will be used in making a decision?
Following is the wording from the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement pertaining to the standard Salazar will be applying:
“Based upon the record, environmental compliance and other actions … and in cooperation with the Secretary of Commerce and other Federal agencies as appropriate, the Secretary shall determine whether, in his judgment, the conditions … have been satisfied, and whether, in his judgment, (dam removal) will advance restoration of the salmonid fisheries of the Klamath Basin, and … is in the public interest, which includes but is not limited to consideration of potential impacts on affected local communities and Tribes.”
“Someone, some day, has to make a decision yes or no,” said Jim Cook, a Siskiyou County supervisor who is opposed to dam removal. “The secretary speaks for the president so you don’t get much higher than that. I think everybody has to make that decision based on what’s best for their communities.”
Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe, said the use of “in his judgment” means that Salazar has some discretion in making a decision.
Larry Dunsmoor, senior fisheries biologist for the Klamath Tribes, said part of the public interest determination would be about which alternative best meets U.S. treaty obligations to the Tribes.
Another consideration will be which alternative would best resolve the conflicts that, according to Dunsmoor, “have been tearing us apart — conflicts over water, fish and environmental conditions.”
Larry Dunsmoor, senior fisheries biologist for the Klamath Tribes, said the dams need to be removed because fish cannot swim past them to reach the Upper Basin.
“Fish will perform better if the dams are removed compared to how they would perform if the dams remain and ladders are built, which means that dam removal is our best chance to return salmon and steelhead to the Upper Basin,” he said.
question that steelhead will be successful in the Upper Basin. We are talking about salmon and steelhead, not just salmon.”
There is disagreement whether salmon historically reached the upper Klamath River Basin, including Upper Klamath Lake and its tributaries.
Athena Bagwell, vice chairwoman of the Shasta Nation, said the Shasta’s oral history makes no mention of salmon in the Basin’s upper reaches. She is opposed to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and dam removal for various reasons, including fears removal would destroy archaeology sites, including burial grounds.
Sisikyou County Supervisor Jim Cook believes fish ladders or other fish bypasses should be developed instead of removing the dams.
“I think we can have electricity and fish,” he said. “I still think fish ladders or a bypass could be done to keep electricity and that green power.”
Cook said he’s not seen evidence that salmon reached the upper Klamath Basin.
“They may have been there. I have never been able to see the documentation,” he said.
“I don’t think the fish ever were here, except on a once-in-a-while basis,” said Tom Mallams, president of the Klamath Off-Project Water Users. “To say the fish were here is pretty much a stretch.”
Dunsmoor and Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe, refer to the April 2005 issue of “Fisheries,” a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Fisheries Society.
A story, “Distribution of Anadromous Fishes in the Upper Klamath River Watershed Prior to Hydropower Dams,” includes information that indicates salmon and steelhead reached the Williamson, Sprague and Wood rivers. The cover features a photo from the Klamath County Historical Society captioned, “Gentlemen display their catch while salmon fishing on the rapids of Link River, 1891.”
“These rivers host significant populations of red band trout, which leads us to conclude the habitat would accommodate anadromous fish if they were not blocked by dams,” Tucker said.
Dunsmoor said the fish were gone before much was recorded about how they used the Upper Basin. He cites examples of possible evidence, including descriptions of salmon runs above Upper Klamath Lake described by early ethnographers; photos of salmon caught in the Link River, then a major tribal fishing site; pre-1917 newspaper stories about salmon runs; and recent confirmation by Dr. Virginia Butler of Portland State University that chinook salmon and steelhead were present in the Sprague River upstream of Beatty.
Dunsmoor said efforts to reintroduce fall chinook would begin as soon as the dams are removed. Steelhead would re-colonize on their own.
Klamath Tribal Council member Jeff Mitchell has stated the agreement represents the best chance in 90 years of salmon returning to the upper Klamath Basin. Why? Where were the fish, anyway? When would they be back? What are the benefits if the fish return?
“Fish will be back up here almost immediately following dam removal, but it will take time, perhaps decades, for the populations to become sizable again,” he said.
Mallams doubts those claims, noting Upper Klamath Lake has always been affected by algae and is not suitable habitat for salmon, except possibly in a few cool water areas. For salmon to survive, he believes they would have to be trucked from below the Keno Dam to upstream tributaries.
He also questions how Upper Klamath Lake can support species of suckers, a warm water fish, and cold-water thriving salmon.
“If the salmon were so plentiful, why did (tribal people) eat sucker fish. Nobody’s been able to explain that to me,” Mallams said.
Dunsmoor said there are multiple benefits to returning salmon and steelhead to the Upper Basin, noting, “For the Klamath Tribes, the loss of these fisheries was a major loss, and a clear violation of their treaty. Returning these fish rights, at least partially, a past wrong.”
Cook is not opposed to fish returning — “I would like to see the fish return to whatever habitat they can get to. I’d like to see them up there” — but said the importance and significance of their return depends on personal beliefs.
Dunsmoor said salmon and steelhead are of major economic importance for tribal and nontribal communities.
“It’s not just if they are back, but how they come back,” he said. “The KBRA will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Upper Basin, much of it in the form of habitat restoration and reintroduction work. This means jobs and a big boost to the local economy.”
Mallams agrees there would be economic benefits, primarily from the cost of studies and surveys that he believes will largely benefit the various tribes.
Tucker wouldn’t speak to the cultural value of fish, but he referred to a January 2006 report, “Preliminary Economic Assessment of Dam Removal: The Klamath River,” prepared by Ecotrust, which indicates, based on economic analyses, each fish caught by recreational fishermen is worth $200 to the local ecomony
Page Updated: Tuesday December 01, 2009 02:48 AM Pacific
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