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Dam removal could be closer; some say science is faulty

by Ty Beaver, Herald and News 8/14/10
     A reported lack of toxins in the sediment behind three of four Klamath River dams leaves fewer hurdles for dam removal in coming years, according to some stakeholders. Others say studies into the issue are flawed and leave questions unanswered.

   Dam removal is a key aspect of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. Federal officials have ordered studies to determine the feasibility of dam removal before going forward.

   Proponents of the agreement lauded the test result, saying it moves dam removal — sought to improve fish habitat and water quality — closer to a reality.  

   “It gives more options in how we deal with sediment if and when we deal with decommissioning (the dams),” said Steve Kandra, an irrigator on the Klamath Reclamation Project.

   Opponents of the agreement were skeptical, saying the studies are clearly being manipulated and results are only preliminary.

“The science they are doing now is predetermined,” said Tom Mallams, an irrigator off the Project.

   The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Thursday that preliminary results from the studies indicate no current public health concerns from exposure to the sediment at the bottom of the dam reservoirs. Samples were taken from reservoirs behind Iron Gate, Copco 1 and J.C. Boyle dams. There wasn’t enough sediment built up behind Copco 2 dam to take a sample, scientists said.   The study examined chemicals called PCBs as well as dioxins.

   “The data from our recent sampling is not unexpected given an earlier study in 2006 and the prevalence of these chemicals in the environment, but we wanted to make this information available as to an open and transparent scientific process,” said Dennis Lynch, program manager of the team conducting studies on behalf of the Interior, in a press release.

   Scientists said some chemical concentrations were higher than expected compared with the concentrations found in other impoundments around the country. They said those findings are likely the result of decades of human activity in the region and natural processes.  

   Mallams called the sediment study “a joke” and said it was heavily based on the flawed science of the 2006 studies, which were conducted by an environmental group.

   “They had to go through three different modeling programs to get the results they wanted,” he said of the earlier study.  

   Mallams added not all the results have been released, as scientists work through some of the data, which he said is being manipulated.

   State Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, said the preliminary results are a first step toward a full environmental impact assessment of dam removal. Garrard said he heard there is no public health risk, but also that there are higher than expected concentrations of heavy metals, including nickel, in the sediment.

   “I think they left some questions we need to look at,” he said.

   It’s understandable to second-guess scientific results that are different from expectations, Kandra said, but at some point people need to accept facts as facts.

   “When you don’t get the answer you want, people are going to be critical of it,” he said.  


No toxins were found in a sediment sample taken from behind Iron Gate Dam and two other dams proposed for removal on the Klamath River.

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