Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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More conflict over dam removal
By Sarah Loogman and Sara Wilmot, Pioneer Press 7/1/09
Conflict over dam removal and water rights has been a long standing issue within the Klamath Basin and surrounding areas. Yet an impending due date of June 30 that is sure to be missed, and opposing parties pressing for further studies, the conflict over the dam removal continues to be a long and complicated process in a debate that is far from over.
With a legislature bill for the removal of the Klamath dam's passed in the Oregon House earlier this month, parties in favor of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) have made a step forward in their proposition to remove the four lower dams along the Klamath River.
Parties in favor of the KBRA hope to restore and sustain the natural production of the River and provide for full participation in ocean and river harvest opportunities of fish species.
The Agreement would potentially establish reliable water and power supplies which sustain agricultural uses and contribute to the sustainability of all Klamath Basin communities.
The negotiations of this proposal include the involvement of 26 different parties, several of which feel that their concerns are being overlooked.
Though the negotiating parties of the KBRA intended to reach a compromise addressing the concerns of all parties involved, advocates of the North Coast Environmental Center (NEC) and Hoopa Valley Indian Tribe feel that the Agreement does not account for their concerns.
The NEC recently withdrew from the agreement because, among other issues, they felt that the negotiations were providing upper River farmers with unprecedented water rights but did not provide such guarantees for the fish.
Parties in favor of removal
According to the NEC, the four dams under consideration are currently blocking the salmon from over 350 miles of spawning habitat. They believe that dam removal is the single most important measure in the Klamath Restoration project to reclaim the salmon habitat.
Executive Director of the Klamath Water Users Association, Greg Addington, represents the farmers and irrigators of the upper Klamath Basin in their fight for stability. Addington claims that farming has become difficult in the current situation as it provides an unstable water supply which in turn, leads to a large factor of uncertainty for the farming industry.
"We don't know month to month if we will have enough water to last the season," said Addington. "And that is something we need to look out for and protect."
The Klamath Water Users Association represents the interests of 17 irrigation districts within the Klamath Project area of nearly 200,000 acres and 12,000 to 14,000 farmers, ranchers and irrigators.
Are the farmers actually affected?
In contrast, Marcia Armstrong of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors believes that "it actually doesn't affect the farmers at all." According to Armstrong, the upper Klamath farmers were once able to regulate the water to create hydro-power flows, enabling them a much lower rate from PacifiCorp.
When the power company's 50-year contract issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission came up for renewal in 2006, the farmers were informed that they would no longer have the ability to regulate the dams in accordance to the Endangered Species Act.
By forming a treaty with the Karuk leadership to seek another source of renewable energy for better rates, the Klamath Basin Restoration campaign has earned the support of the upper River farmers.
Concerns over toxins
One of the greatest concerns of the KBRA is issues regarding toxins in the water - by all sides of the opposing parties.
In a study by Shannon & Wilson in 2006, sediment samplings indicated heavy quantities of dioxins behind three of the dams. These dioxins carry cancer-causing agents and contain levels of potency up to 5 times greater than the standards set by Oregon and California screening levels for human health and salmon habitat.
"There haven't been studies done with good engineering models that can show what will happen down river when this sediment is released," said Armstrong.
In 2003, PacifiCorp made an evaluation to determine the quantity and texture of the sedimentary content behind the dams and roughly estimated that there is 14.5 million cubic yards behind the four dams. An even more recent evaluation was funded by the California State Coastal Conservancy in 2006 in which Dennis Gathard re-estimated the sediment resident to be about 20 million cubic yards.
Releasing these sediments into the Klamath River could not only unpredictably change the hydrographic levels of the river bottom by several feet, but fine grained sediments could be trapped between the gravel beds and suspended in the environment, polluting not only salmon habitats and fisheries but the entirety of the surrounding wildlife.
"By taking out the dams, we could be releasing those diseases into the entire main stem of the river and it would be disastrous," said Kathy Lehman, former president of the People for the USA grange.
Similarly, Karuk Tribe Spokesman and Klamath Campaign Coordinator Craig Tucker believes that leaving the dams in place also presents a toxic hazard.
Each summer, a blue-green algae blooms in the Klamath reservoirs and limits recreational activities by swimmers and boaters. Known as Microcystis aeruginosa, this toxin can cause eye irritation, mouth ulcers, numbness, vomiting, and in rare cases, liver failure, nerve damage, and death have occurred from ingestion of large amounts of contaminated water.
As in previous years, the U.S. Environmental Protection agency and other California agencies are urging lakeside residents and recreational users to avoid contact with the water near these algae blooms. The quantity of this toxic algae found in the Klamath lakes is the highest recorded amount in North America.
"This algae blooms in warm and stagnant water," explained Tucker. "If they drain the reservoirs in the winter, there will be no concern of the toxins spreading.""
What the agreement says
In November of 2008, various government officials of Oregon, California, and the U.S., signed an Agreement in Principal (AIP) with PacifiCorp Chairman and CEO, Greg Abel. This Agreement outlines the process to create a Final Agreement with the involved parties which would begin the largest dam removal in U.S. history.
The final decision for the removal of the four lower Klamath dams is ultimately the decision of Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Per the AIP, thorough investigations and studies must yet be conducted before the secretarial determination of the Final Agreement on March 31, 2012. If Salazar approves the removal, deconstruction will begin in the year 2020.
But where does the funding come from?
In July of 2008, a consulting firm on engineering, construction, and operations named Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM) provided the U.S. Department of the Interior with a confidential report outlining the risks and liabilities associated to the removal of the four lower Klamath dams.
Much to the disapproval Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, this Report has only recently been released to the negotiating parties in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
The CDM Report quantifies the various liabilities and costs associated to the decommissioning of the four dams based on pre-existing studies and reports and also outlines a summary of additional studies needed. According to the studies of CDM, there is a potential cost of up to $836 million to remove the four dams, excluding the factor of sediment removal if it is toxic.
Under the AIP, ownership of the dams will be transferred to a third party Dam Removal Entity (DRE) prior to deconstruction. According to a statement released from the Siskiyou Board of Supervisors, this will grant PacifiCorp, as well as the federal and state governments, legislative immunity from liability on the effects the dam removal will have. The Board's statement expresses their concerns that "unanswered is who will be responsible for the harm to the County and citizens of the Siskiyou."
"We are currently trying to negotiate with Siskiyou County and keep them at the table to discuss how those folks will need to be mitigated," said Tucker. "We are also providing money to provide new irrigation plans for farmers to get affordable power rates. We want everyone to have economic certainty going into the future."
Under the AIP, the sum of money for the Klamath dam removal to be given to the DRE has been appropriated at no more $450 million - a sum much lower than the calculations of the CDM Report. A legislature to have $200 million of the sum paid by PacifiCorp rate payers in California and Oregon was passed last week - $180 million from customers in Oregon, $20 million from customers in California.
A water bond is currently pending to pay for the remaining $250 million - several bond measures are currently under consideration and per terms of the Agreement, must be passed by 2012.
According to a statement released by the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, these figures for California account for just under 47,000 customers, mostly residential. The $20 million rate payer cost results in approximately $427 per customer.
Other relevant affairs in the removal of the Klamath dams include recreational activities, property taxes, land renewal, and road management - all of which would negatively impact Siskiyou County.
"Our greatest concern is in advocating for the protection of the citizens in Siskiyou County," said Armstrong. "The Board unanimously believes that the dams should not be removed. However, if there were a bypass, we are fully amendable to those."
Such bypasses may certainly be available, but some parties are still concerned with those alternatives.
The building of fish ladders over each of the four dams has been a topic for discussion by the negotiating parties. But according to Tucker, the cost of installing fish ladders combined with licensing renewal calculates to about $480 million.
A 'Trap and Haul' method has also been considered. By catching the fish and putting them in large truck bins, the salmon could be transported around the dams.
"They've been doing that for years and it has a very, very low mortality rate," explained Lehman. "It will still cost hundreds of thousands but that would be much better than the alternative of hundreds of millions."
Armstrong presents another idea that would create a natural path for the salmon, "Below the Iron Gate hatchery there is a little river called Bogus Creek, there's always a lot of spawning there. There is another creek, Cole Creek, which could be attached to Bogus to create a path around the dam."
However, none of these options account for the presence of the blue-green algae that is present each summer in the reservoirs behind the dams.
"The deep, slow moving reservoirs allow time for this algae to grow," said Tom Schlosser, attorney for the Hoopa Valley Tribe. "This would not happen if the river were flowing naturally."
How will this affect fish?
The Klamath River runs through a section of the Hoopa Indian reservation which puts them at the table in the negotiations. The Hoopa Indians are concerned not only about protecting the water and fishing rights for the tribe along the Klamath River, but also for the potential extinction of salmon and for the public health and safety threats that the dams are creating.
Parties in favor of dam removal along the Klamath River say that fish species, including the spring salmon, are in grave danger of extinction if nothing along the Klamath River is changed. Lehman believes, however, that perhaps the fish should not be such a high priority.
"Coho salmon are a cold water fish," explained Lehman. "Coho in their appropriate territory are not endangered but here in the Klamath River, they are on the extreme edge of their habitat because the water here is relatively warm."
Lehman continued by asking, "is the cost really worth it? Do we need the salmon in the Klamath where they don't belong? The water will never be cold enough to fit the fish's intended habitat."
Another missed deadline
According to the AIP, the Final Agreement should be fully executed by June 30, 2009. If not, the unbinding contract of the AIP permits Right of Withdrawal of any party of the Agreement.
Addington explained that the final amendments to the KBRA are dependent upon the passing of the Final Agreement in the AIP. According to Addington, the June 30 target deadline is not going to be met due to the complicated nature of the negotiations.
"There is no particular reason," said Addington. "We expect something final to happen by the end of the summer, it is just a big issue and we are dealing with different perspectives and a new adminstration which can add complications."
On the other hand, Siskiyou Country District 1 Supervisor Jim Cook said, "It's a lot more complicated of a process than they are making it out to be. They don't have the legitimate studies done to know what is going on and their have been no plans made on whose liability it will be."
The four Klamath dams proposed for removal are within District 1. With irrigators along the Basin, lakeside homeowners, power service customers, and landowners below the damns, the residents of Cook's district will certainly suffer direct impacts of dam removal.
"Removing the dams directly affects the people in District 1 more than any place in the County, it's just a part of the geography involved," said Cook.
Homeowner Bob Davis has lived in his lakefront Copco home for the past 29 years, sitting just 100 feet from the lake's shoreline. With obvious concerns on how dam removal will decrease the value of his property, Davis represents one of many landowners along the reservoirs behind the four Klamath dams. If the dams were to be removed, the remaining river would be over a half mile away and 90 feet below his current residence.
"I would be living on top of a canyon ridge," said Davis. ""I think dam removal is the most foolish thing they could ever do."
Page Updated: Wednesday August 05, 2009 01:45 AM Pacific
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