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Shasta river irrigation project: good news on the Klamath

shasta river dam 1 - web.jpg by Amy Campbell
Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong (center) and Shasta Valley Resource Conservation District (RCD) construction manager Tim Beck inspect the Shasta River Water Association dam site. The RCD’s overhaul of aging flashboard irrigation systems along the Shasta River stand as a bit of good news for a larger river system often mired in controversy.
by Charlie Unkefer, Mt Shasta Herald 9/2/09

Mount Shasta, Calif. - While much of the news  surrounding the Klamath River appears to be mired in controversy, Amy Campbell of the Shasta Valley Resource Conservation District (RCD) has a much different story to tell. 

“What I really want people to understand is that, despite all of the controversy, there are good things happening (along the Klamath and its tributaries),” she said, referring specifically to the recently completed Shasta River Water Association dam removal project, which has replaced an aging flashboard diversion dam and its accompanying pump system with  an upgraded fish friendly alternative. 

It is a “win-win” situation, explained Campbell, noting that the new boulder weir system allows the river to flow unobstructed, yet it still pushes enough water into the pumps   to allow for irrigation.  (Prior to the installation of the new systems, a dam was necessary to keep the pumps supplied with water.)

Second major dam project on the Shasta

This is the second project of its kind in the Shasta River, the first being the removal of the Aruja dam, which lies just below the Shasta River Water Association dam.  Together, the two projects have ushered in an era of enhanced management practices that allow Shasta Valley irrigators access to their adjudicated water right while also improving fish habitat, fish passage and overall water quality.

Collaborative effort

Though the Shasta Valley RCD has served as the coordinating agency for both of the dam removal projects, they are certainly not alone in their efforts.  In fact, both projects have been fully funded from grants received by a variety of agencies, including the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, among others.

Campbell noted that much of the funding for the recently completed project came from Prop 50 funds and was managed by the State Water Board, NOA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Fish and Game.

“It truly has been a collaborative effort on every level,” said Campbell,  noting that the upgrades have come at no cost to the irrigators and put them a step closer to complying with water quality standards established for the Shasta River, as well as meeting the needs of threatened salmon and other aquatic species.

Rich salmon history

 The Shasta River once supported record high salmon populations, with   its coho (silver) salmon populations standing as one of the largest in the state.  This is due, in part, to the many cold water springs that line the river’s upper reaches, providing the cooler water temperatures that salmon need for survival. 

As is the case with salmon throughout the state, the numbers have dwindled dramatically.. “The public really needs to know about how dire the Shasta River coho run is  becoming,” said Campbell.  Last year, 31 coho salmon returned to the Shasta to spawn.
It is Campbell’s hope that by removing the aging flashboard dams and replacing them with the upgraded irrigation systems that this downward trend can be thwarted. 

Navigating the funding stream

Though grant funding had  been secured for the entire five million dollar project, Campbell noted that there was a six month period in which the promised grant payments were not being distributed. 

Campbell reported that funding was reestablished in July and the RCD was able to meet its financial obligations to the project contractors. ”We were in debt $850,000 as of the end of June,” she said, emphasizing the difficulty that the situation presented.

She said that Timber Works Construction of Mt. Shasta went without payment on a substantial contract for its irrigation pipe installation efforts but that everything is back on track.  She applauded their patience and willingness to continue their work, despite the lengthy lapse in funding.  She also applauded the efforts of the Siskiyou County Supervisors, who lobbied to restore the funding flow and ensure that all contracts were honored.    

Despite the setbacks, construction continued and the project was completed in time for the beginning of the April irrigation season. 

Upgrades part of Shasta River irrigation history

The Shasta River Water Association Dam was the second dam on the river, built in 1912, and the irrigation district was created by Dr. Dwinnell (whose name accompanies Lake Shastina’s Dwinnell Dam).  Dwinnell was instrumental in the overall development Shasta Valley irrigation development.

The orignal dam was a “flashboard dam” that allowed boards to be place in the main channel that would divert water to adjacent ditches.  

Incorporated into the Shasta River system was a pump system that, noted Hanson, despite its age had weathered quite well.

However, the new system is able to pull the necessary water into the pump bays without having to block the river in any way.  It does this through two boulder weirs (also known as “Newberry Riffles”) which, through the careful placement of stream bottom boulders, create the hydrology necessary to direct water towards the irrigation pumps. 

The two riffles, coupled with the configuration of the river and the placement of the pumping bays, maintain the pumping capacity without having to block river. The system is designed with specially designed fish screens that keep  fish and other aquatic out of the pumps. 

Campbell credited Shasta Valley dairy man Albert Sandahl as the “original visionary” for the project,  noting that he was the first to get funding from the Natural Resources Conservation District for the project.

As with any new system, there are typically setbacks, noted Campbell.  Other than the unexpected funding hiatus, there was the issue of getting the system installed and functional by the start of the irrigation season.  A setback that jeopardized access to irrigation water would have been disasterous, explained Campbell.  “We’ve had some growing pains,” she said, speaking of the task of breaking in the new irrigation system.  “But we’re getting things dialed in.”

The system as a whole has the potential to deliver 45 cu/ft per second of water and has an upgraded variable frequency pumps.  

The bigger picture

Campbell said that the monitoring efforts, which have been in place since before the project  began, have shown that since the dam’s removal, the temperature spikes (periods where the water temperature increases dramatically) have diminished.  This, she explained, is a good sign, as   variations in water temperature are attributed to poor fish habitat.

Campbell reiterated her hope that her organization’s dam replacement efforts will have the desired effect of improving fish passage and water quality while still meeting the irrigator’s needs.  It is, however, an incremental process, Campbell stated, noting that there are numberous variables contributing to fish population declines.

“This project is a step in a series of steps,” she reiterated.

Apples and Oranges

Campbell emphasized that comparing the dam removal of small irrigation dams on the Shasta River to the larger hydro-electric dams on the main stem of the Klamath is like comparing apples to oranges.  They are different on so many levels, she said, that she was hesitant to make any direct comparisons.

Campbell, instead, returned to the fact the Shasta River Water Association project is a small (but significant) bit of good news for a river system plagued by controversy and divisiveness.
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