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Study commissioned by tribe on river finds risk to public health

By LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 4/11/08

(KBC NOTE: Craig Tucker, Karuk spokesman, was previously activist with 'Friends of the River', an international dam removal group, and presently 'Riverkeeper.' Karuks along with Bobby Kennedy, President of Waterkeepers, filed a lawsuit against PacifiCorp to get the dams removed because of algae. A quote from Tucker 7/4/07: "It would be worth better understanding what they could to address the algae problem. But note that our push for dam removal comes with or without the algae as the dams remain a barrier to the recovery of salmon even if the human health threat of the toxic algae blooms were addressed." S. Craig Tucker, Ph.D., Klamath Campaign Coordinator, Karuk Tribe of California)

Popular fish caught in the Iron Gate and Copco reser voi rs a nd mus sels harvested from the Klamath River contain algae toxins at levels high enough to pose a risk to public health, an analysis shows.
   The study, commissioned by the K aruk Tribe, indicated the flesh of yellow perch and mussels are contaminated by the toxin microcystin. The study was done as part of the tribe’s efforts to remove dams on the K l a m at h R iver a nd restore salmon runs.
   “ We w i l l a s k t he appropriate agencies to post warnings that the public not eat fish from the reservoirs during summer months when From page A1
blooms are most pervasive,” Karuk Tribe spokesman Craig Tucker said Thursday following the report’s release.
   The reservoirs are in Northern California near the Oregon border.
   However Toby Freeman of PacifiCorp, a Portland-based power company that owns the Iron Gate and Copco dams, said it’s too early to issue health warnings.
   “Certainly we take any matter that involves any health related matters in the Klamath River very seriously,” he said. “We will work with all appropriate state and local agencies to handle this matter as quickly and transparently as possible.”
   The report is based on toxicological analyses performed by Jacob Kahn of Aquatic Ecosystems Sciences in Ashland. The tissues samples were gathered by California Department of Fish and Game under contract to the California Water Board with funding from the Environment Protection Agency.
   Algae blooms
   Kahn’s analysis found that during summer months when the algae blooms persist, the toxin microcystin was present in the yellow perch and freshwater mussels. Toxins also were found in the livers of young salmon in the Iron Gate fish hatchery. Levels exceeded guidelines for human consumption, Kahn said.
   The toxins come from blue-green algae know as Microcystis aeruginosa, which commonly blooms in warm, slow-moving water with high levels of phosphorous and nitrogen. The toxin affects the liver.
   Fishing the reservoirs for yellow perch is popular while river mussels are an important traditional food for the Karuk and other tribes, Tucker said.
   EPA listing
   Last summer, the Northcoast Regional Water Quality Control Board posted warnings urging swimmers and boaters to avoid contact with the reservoirs and river all the way to the ocean because of high levels of algal toxin. Earlier this year, the federal EPA moved to list the Klamath River as “impaired” by toxic algae.
   The toxin was first discovered in the reservoirs in 2001.
   “PacifiCorp’s dams kill our salmon and poison our people,” Karuk vice-chairman Leaf Hillman said in a prepared statement. “We will do everything in our power to remove these dams and fix our river.”
   Under review
   PacifiCorp is renewing its license to operate the dams. Before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can issue a new license, the water boards of California and Oregon must issue clean water permits.
   Tucker said the Karuk Tribe hopes the toxicology data will be considered by the states as they review the power company’s application for a clean water permit.
H&N reporter Steve Kadel and the Associated Press writer Jeff Barnard contributed to this report.
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