EPA approves water quality plan for Klamath River
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The Klamath River — which has seen its salmon runs gradually decline for a century — now has a formal plan for restoring the purity of its waters.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday it has approved California's water quality improvement plan for the Klamath, which runs 255 miles from the city of Klamath Falls in Southern Oregon to the Pacific Ocean on the north coast of California.
Oregon's plan setting total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs, for various water quality factors, is expected to be approved next month.
"There have been years and years of fighting water wars around the Klamath," Jared Blumenfeld, southwest regional administrator for EPA, said from San Francisco. "Hopefully, for the first time I think, many parties around the table have reached agreement on what needs to be done on how we get to a place where a healthy river ecosystem is prioritized.
"This will be looked back on as an important milestone in getting both agreement and a degree of accountability about the clear path forward."
The challenge now is implementing that plan, which requires state funding and many different players, said Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
The Klamath's waters have long been impaired by warm temperatures, low oxygen levels, toxic algae and erosion that are exacerbated by dams, logging, roads, and agricultural runoff.
Spain's organization and other conservation groups sued the EPA to force California to develop water quality standards for 17 salmon rivers from Mendocino, Calif., to the Oregon border, and a consent decree was signed in 1997. The Klamath plan was the last of them.
Water quality problems came to a head in 2002, when tens of thousands of adult salmon died in the lower Klamath from diseases spread by low and warm water conditions during a drought. In recent years, the state has posted summer health warnings along the river due to toxic algae.
The bulk of water quality problems come from Oregon, where the biggest concentration of people and most intensive farming occur, scientists said. California benefits from having most of the tributaries that pump cleaner and colder water into the Klamath. Water quality improvement plans for those tributaries have already been approved.
EPA scientists said fixing the problems will take years and hinge on municipal water treatment plants serving Klamath Falls, Ore., and Tulelake, Calif.; hydroelectric dams straddling the Oregon-California border; logging; farming; and cattle grazing.
The Klamath water quality plan comes on top of landmark agreements to remove four hydroelectric dams that block salmon from hundreds of miles of habitat, restore Klamath Basin ecosystems, and assure water for farmers on a federal irrigation project.
The U.S. Interior secretary is due to decide by March 2012 on whether to go ahead with the plans.
Federal approval of dam removal and environmental restoration will make crucial funding available to meet the water quality plan, said EPA environmental scientist Sue Keydel.