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County comments on Klamath TMDL analysis/ action plan
State water resource control engineer David Leland speaks at the board of supervisors meeting Tuesday.

By Dale Andreasen Siskiyou Daily News July 13, 2009

Yreka, Calif. - Before the Klamath Basin Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) workshop Tuesday evening put on by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and other agencies, two water resource control engineers appeared at the board of supervisors meeting to give an update and to listen to comments from the supervisors and the public.

TMDLs have been set for the Klamath and all tributaries in the Klamath Basin. TMDLs are limits set for sediment, nutrients and other pollution released into the river system.

Supervising engineer David Leland and engineer Matt St. John showed some slides and answered questions and concerns from the board. Leland announced that the comment period has been extended to Aug. 23. Another workshop will be held in September in Grenada and the final adoption hearing will take place Oct. 28-29 in the town of Klamath, near the mouth of the river.

County Counsel Tom Guarino said, “The TMDL action plan is significant because it will be used in the 401 certification for the possible relicensing of PacifiCorp’s hydroelectric dams.”

A 401 certification is done with each license renewal by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure that water quality standards can be met. The more stringent the TMDL action plan, the more difficult it is to achieve an acceptable 401 certification, Guarino said.

“Are we saying there’s a predisposition toward dam removal?” board chair Michael Kobseff asked.

“It has been shown there is predisposition toward dam removal,” answered Guarino. “A lot of this is discussed in meetings that are not open to the public. Are there side deals being cut? I don’t know. But there is a link between the TMDL action plan and the 401 certification.”

“I’ve had some doubts,” said supervisor Jim Cook. “I do not believe that this agency (NCRWQCB), the regional water quality control board, does not have an agenda.”

In reference to Catherine Kuhlman, the board’s executive director, Cook said, “She made a statement years ago that she would be the one to remove the dams.”

“The decision on whether or not to take out the dams is supposed to be based upon if it’s cost-effective or not,” said supervisor Marcia Armstrong. “This is where the distrust comes from.”

“In 1908, the Klamath River raised 80 feet,” said supervisor Grace Bennett. “Historically, it has raised water levels many times by large amounts. To try to eliminate sediment caused by natural causes is crazy.”

“There are ways to minimize human impacts,” replied engineer Leland. “We’re not trying to control nature.”

“There are certain numbers of things that are not fixable,” continued Bennett. “People have to be able to make a living.”

“When we talk about human-related activities, we’re talking about road building, timber harvesting, agricultural irrigation and grazing,” St. John pointed out.

Leland showed a slide that talked about prohibiting discharge of waste in and near known thermal refugia. He said that part of the action plan calls for prohibition of waste discharge within defined in-stream buffer areas in and near known thermal refugia in the Klamath Basin. Singled out for possible prohibition was suction dredge mining and stream bank alteration.

“Are you going to encourage dredging in certain areas that might enhance the refugia?” asked Cook.

“We have realized that in some cases suction dredging may be beneficial or has no impact,” said Leland. “But, generally, an increase in turbidity produces negative impacts on fish using refugia areas.”

“You’ve already made a decision that suction dredging is bad for the river,” asserted supervisor Ed Valenzuela. “Doesn’t the suction dredging put more oxygen in the water?” A reply to that question was not forthcoming.

“We have a full scale EIR going on in regard to suction dredge mining,” noted supervisor Armstrong. “We have sent you information about the lack of bad effects from dredging. It seems like you’ve already made up your minds about dredging.”

Leland invited the county to raise that question and to comment about the information available.

“I want to hear from the water board,” said supervisor Kobseff. “What is the emphasis you are placing on the 30-some pages of information that supervisor Armstrong has provided?” Once again, no answer was forthcoming.

“These changes being proposed are one of the biggest things to ever hit this county,” said natural resource policy specialist Ric Costales. “This will put people out of business. The timber industry is one of the most regulated industries in the country. Now, agriculture will fall into that same category.”

In reference to agriculture, supervisor Kobseff said, “Some of these same people are in danger of losing the Williamson Act [which gives tax breaks to farmers who keep their land in production]. Now, this will kill them. We’re laying off people; the state should be cutting back. How can you afford to do this? What you’re proposing is impossible.”

“I feel like we have not been representing ourselves well,” stated Leland. “I think there is an opportunity for the county to cooperate.”

“We don’t have the money or the time,” replied Kobseff.

During the time allotted for public comment, mining advocate Jim Foley said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has published a finding of “no consequence” in regard to suction dredging using a 4-inch dredge or smaller.

“Studies have not shown any long-lasting harm to the environment,” he said. “You cannot regulate against “potential” harm to rivers.”

Truck driver and miner Alan London said he thought that suction dredging was already regulated.

“Just come and take my property,” said Michael Adams. “I don’t have the time or the money to fix that road on my property to the extent that I’m sure you’ll decide has to be done. They don’t want the farmers farming or the miners mining.”

Scott Sumner, director of public works, said he has some doubts about the TMDL action plan.

“I think our road department is doing everything possible with the county roads. We’ve been following the manual for a long time.”

He said he is doing some paperwork for a permit under the plan just for the Scott River area.

“It’s going to cost us $6,000 for a WDR each year,” he said. “That’s 100 tons of asphalt that I won’t have to fill pot-holes.”

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