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Water Board Adopts Pollution Limits for the Klamath Basin

by Dan Bacher Sep 8th, 2010
"The result is significant as the TMDL will limit new pollution sources from being developed and force clean up of current sources," said Tucker. "If the pending Klamath Dam Removal Settlement fails to be implemented, the TMDL will force additional regulations on the operation of the dams should PacifiCorp choose to pursue a new operational license for the dams."
by Dan Bacher

The State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento on September 7 approved water pollution limits for the Klamath River, a system regularly plagued with fish kills, toxic algae blooms and poor water quality in recent years.

The board adopted TMDLs (total maximum daily loads), essentially pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and activities affecting water temperatures and dissolved oxygen, according to Craig Tucker, Klamath Coordinator for the Karuk Tribe. They also ban dredge mining from areas considered to be "thermal refugial zones," cold spots in the river at creek mouths that fish use during summer months.

The TMDLs also address the blooms of toxic blue-green algae that take place every summer behind PacifiCorp dams and mandate that PacifiCorp reservoirs cannot impact water temperature. "Currently the dams have a dramatic effect on water temperature and salmon and steelhead migration," said Tucker.

"The Board's decision is significant, since the TMDLs will limit new pollution sources from being developed and force clean up of current sources," said Tucker. "If the pending Klamath Dam Removal Settlement fails to be implemented, the TMDLs will force additional regulations on the operation of the dams should PacifiCorp choose to pursue a new operational license for the dams."

The TMDLs were developed over the course of several years by the Northcoast Regional Water Quality Control Board and were subjected to third party scientific reviews as well as public reviews and comments. A broad coalition of Klamath Basin Indian Tribes, fishing groups and conservation organizations supported the adoption of these pollution limits, while PacifiCorp, the subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, and Siskiyou County opposed them.

The TMDLs are the result of litigation filed in 1994 by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) and others charging that The Clean Water Act obligated the state to set pollution limits for a host of northern California salmon streams. Similar TMDL processes have been completed for the Trinity, Scott, Shasta, Salmon and other rivers.

PacifiCorp requested that the TMDL be sent back to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board, claiming that the company would like to see "good science, not quick science” as imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)

”Through the settlement process Pacificorp is collaboratively working with basin stakeholders to implement key provisions of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement that will improve water quality prior to potential removal of the dams, if that is the ultimate decision of the Secretary of the Interior, and that will improve water quality if the dams are not removed,” said Art Sasse, spokesman for PacifiCorp.

However, Glen Spain, Northwest Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), said this would have simply have meant the U.S. EPA would have stepped in and approved the TMDLs - there is a December 31, 2010 court-ordered deadline. "This would have meant the parties would have lost a lot of the flexibility provided for under a state approved TMDL and implementation plan," noted Spain.

While Spain, Tucker and other supporters praised the board's decision, Sasse said PacifiCorp continues to have "strong disagreements about the feasibility and attainability of the TMDL and the integrity of the underlying technical analysis."

"At its core, this is about how to best protect customers and the community," said Sasse. "PacifiCorp and other stakeholders are working diligently to implement the KHSA and realize the regulatory certainty provided by the settlement agreement. But we also have a legal responsibility to our customers to continue down the relicensing path, until and only if dam removal becomes certain."

Sasse added, "PacifiCorp will vigorously engage in ongoing regulatory processes such as the TMDL to ensure a fair and accurate assignment of responsibilities and costs to the Project, which ultimately must be borne by PacifiCorps customers."

This was the final TMDL to be approved for California’s North Coast coming out of the 1995 PCFFA lawsuit (PCFFA v. Marcus) and the 1997 settlement.

"It’s been a long time coming and there’s still a lot of work to do (along with preventing backsliding by the parties), but it is a bit of good news," said Spain. "It was the second piece of good news delivered by the Board in the past couple of months – the first was their unanimous approval of their flow criteria for the Bay-Delta estuary ecosystem."

Representatives from the PCFFA, Karuk Tribe, Yurok Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper, the Klamath Forest Alliance and the Sierra Club testified at the meeting in support of the TMDLs.

"The staff of the North Coast board deserves a lot of credit for the incredible amount of work they did and their courage to stand up to PacifiCorp and others who didn’t want to see TMDLs, or strong ones anyway, in place," stated Spain.

Poor water quality and warm water temperatures have plagued the Klamath River for decades. Besides the annual blooms of toxic algae at the PacifiCorp reservoirs, die offs of juvenile salmon and steelhead fish due to disease spurred by warm water temperatures have become a regular occurence in the spring and summer months. In September 2002, over 68,000 adult salmon perished due to an outbreak of disease in low, warm water conditions on the lower Klamath.

For more information, contact Glen Spain of PCFFA, 541-689-2000              541-689-2000      , or S. Craig Tucker, Klamath Coordinator, Karuk Tribe, cell: 916-207-8294              916-207-8294      , home office: 707-839-1982              707-839-1982      , http://www.karuk.us.

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              Page Updated: Friday November 05, 2010 01:02 AM  Pacific

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