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Dam removal ‘a major step forward’

But water agreement habitat restoration goals may not be achievable

by SARA HOTTMAN, Herald and News 6/28/11

A panel of Klamath River experts is skeptical habitat restoration goals outlined in dam removal and water agreements are achievable, according to a report issued this month.


But federal agencies were critical of the panel’s conclusions and say it strayed out side its assigned territory into “speculating how well a large restoration can be done,” said Dennis Lynch, study manager with U. S. Geological Survey.


The six-member panel was tasked with reviewing the impact of dam removal on chinook salmon as part of an independent review portion of the year-long, $18 million federal study required in the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement.

If the settlement is approved, PacifiCorp would dismantle four of its dams on the Klamath River.


The panel’s report concludes, “the proposed action appears to be a major step forward in conserving target fish populations compared with decades of vigorous disagreements, obvious fish passage barriers, and continued ecological degradation.”


The report goes on to question whether proposed habitat restoration actions would allow for an increase in salmon in the upper basin. “This is based on the panel’s collective experience with other large-scale restoration programs,” the report states.


Greg Addington, director of the irrigator group Klamath Water Users Association, said the “report is critical of irrigated agriculture” and blames “ag for all the Basin’s water quality issues.


“The panel ventured way outside their expertise, which is supposed to be chinook, and they’re talking about ag land and refuges and water quality issues that aren’t necessarily related to chinook.”


Lynch said the panel was one of four groups of experts assigned to review the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and dam removal and conclude whether the agreements would advance fish species.


“We wanted some fresh eyes to look at some of the same information we have,” he said.


The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement seeks to establish sustainable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators, help the Klamath Tribes acquire a 92,000-acre parcel of private timberland, and fund habitat restoration.


In March 2012, the reports will inform Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s determination whether dam removal — costing between $200 million and $450 million — is in the public interest and whether it would improve fish populations and habitats.


The panel also concluded the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement falls short in addressing water quality and other habitat improvements.


“… the panel has strong reservations that KBRA will be implemented with sufficient effectiveness to achieve its stated goals,” the report reads.


The KBRA, which would cost $1 billion to implement, requires funding from the U.S. Congress. An implementation bill was presented to Congressional offices last August but went nowhere. Now KBRA signatories are working to draft legislation addressing lawmakers’ cost concerns.


Addington said the KBRA discussion was inappropriate. “To me that’s a policy and political question and not about what’s good for chinook,” he said.

Side Bars


10 restoration conditions

The panel’s analysis said some or all of 10 conditions should be met — either in nature or through restoration efforts — in order to achieve the agreements’ fish population and habitat restoration goals:


Water quality:


Water quality issues — algae, municipal pollution, irrigation runoff — must be solved.


Disease: Habitats must help deter diseases that could kill out-migrating juvenile salmon or pre-spawning adult salmon.


Colonization of the Upper Klamath Basin: Chinook salmon must be able to migrate freely to the upper Basin.


Harvest and escapement: Chinook salmon must be populous enough to escape hatcheries and colonize existing and future habitats.


Hatchery versus wild: Hatchery chinook salmon must not interfere with naturally evolving life forms that will take advantage of new habitats.


Predation: Death by predatory fish must remain sufficiently low.


Climate change:


Shifting climate must not overwhelm the Basin’s water needs.


Fall flows: River flows must not affect chinook salmon productivity.


Dam removal impacts: Removing dams must not have a multi-year impact on chinook salmon.


Scientific leadership: A centralized program must coordinate rehabilitation efforts, which need to be adequately funded.

KHSA update

PacifiCorp ratepayers have paid about 10 percent of their portion of dam removal costs, according to a Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement implementation report released this month.


Pending feasibility studies, PacifiCorp may remove four hydroelectric dams from its seven-dam project on the Klamath River. Hydroelectric power makes up about 2 percent of PacifiCorp’s power portfolio.


Oregonians and Californians who get their power from PacifiCorp will pay $200 million — $184 million in Oregon and $16 million in California — toward dam removal. If it costs more, California will raise $250 million through a bond measure.


Since September 2010, Oregon ratepayers have paid about $17.7 million in surcharges. California’s public utility commission in May approved a surcharge for customers.


According to the agreement, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will decide whether removing the dams is in the public’s interest and whether it will advance fish populations and improve habitats.


If he decides it won’t, the surcharges will go to relicensing dams for another 50 years. The dams are being temporarily relicensed each year.


Meanwhile, the implementation report shows, PacifiCorp has contributed a cumulative several million dollars to various habitat and fish restoration measures, including installing new equipment on facilities, such as turbine venting on the Iron Gate Dam to improve dissolved oxygen concentrations, and funding studies on fish diseases and water quality.


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