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Expert panel assesses Klamath dam removal impacts on salmon, steelhead
by David Smith, Siskiyou Daily News January 14, 2011
Klamath River — Jan. 8 saw the release of an expert panel’s draft report on the assessment of the potential effects of two Klamath dam alternatives on Coho and steelhead populations, a document which reports the potential impacts on those fish species from the implementation of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA).

The report was prepared by Drs. Thomas Dunne, Greg Ruggerone, Daniel Goodman, Kenneth Rose, Wim Kimmerer and Joseph Ebersole and assesses two alternatives, keeping the dams in and taking the dams out and implementing the KBRA.

According to the executive summary, the panel was asked a number of questions regarding the expert opinion on what each scenario could mean for steelhead and Coho salmon.

“The Panel faced a difficult challenge,” the document reads. “The Panel was presented with an enormous amount of material, spread out in many documents, and not synthesized in an overview document compiling the program’s conclusions along with the evidence for them.”

Another obstacle, according to the document, was the five day time constraint placed upon the team to review the data and write the report.

Answering 13 questions, the panel suggested that the removal of the dams would have “injurious” effects on migrating Coho and steelhead in the short term as sediment from behind the dams is released, with an expected improvement of spawning habitat in the long term, more for steelhead than Coho.

Other areas were also analyzed, with the panel stating that it believes that dam removal would cause increased temperatures before August and decreased temperatures after, “with ambiguous results for affected life stages that span that divide.”

According to the report, the panel struggled with the lack of data regarding some of the questions it was asked to answer, as well as the uncertainty regarding the KBRA’s implementation. Because of that uncertainty, the panel states that it expects that nutrient loading and dissolved oxygen would not show an appreciable change above Keno Dam.

With respect to fish disease, ecosystem function and the recreational fishery, the panel states that more information is needed, either in the form of more studies or in better defining KBRA actions in the future.

Both with the dams in and with the dams out, the panel expressed a concern that Coho salmon will still face survival issues. The benefits of taking out the dams, the panel says, “will result from small increases in habitat area usable by Coho with dam removal, small changes  in conditions in the mainstem, positive but unquantified changes in tributary habitats where most Coho spawn and rear, and the potential risk for disease and low ocean survival to offset gains in production in the new habitat.”

Ultimately, the panel states, “large improvements are needed to put this population on the road to recovery.”

The panel explains that it is more optimistic about steelhead numbers improving in the decades after dam removal, if that project and the KBRA are implemented effectively.

With the uncertainty regarding the topics that the panel assessed, it states in its executive summary, “the panel hesitantly answered the questions because of the potential for misinterpretation of the Panel’s responses.

“‘Expert opinion,’ even of an independent panel, should not be used as a substitute for scientific analysis.”

Offering recommendations on how to reduce uncertainty, the panel suggests that an overall conceptual model be constructed, a “centralized science advisory group with strong leadership” be formed and actions in the KBRA be specified, among other actions.

The panel’s responses are expected to receive internal comments by Jan. 18.

– David Smith can be reached at dsmith@siskiyoudaily.com
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