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Klamath River pollution limits approved
New rules for Oregon, California likely would be costly for city, agriculture
followed by: Pollution plan under review
by Sara Hottman, Herald and News 1/5/11
Regardless of whether Klamath River dams are removed, stakeholders are going to have to reduce phosphorous and nitrogen loads in the Klamath River by tens of thousands of pounds annually.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency last week gave final approval to a pollution reduction plan for the California portion of the river, meeting a court-ordered deadline.
A nearly identical plan by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is expected to receive EPA approval by Jan. 20.
The plans are mandated by the federal Clean Water Act and aim to improve water quality, restore fish habitats and remove toxins from the river.
The Klamath River stretches 255 miles from Upper Klamath Lake to the Pacific Ocean in northern California.
The EPA’s pollution reduction plan impacts communities along the river, including Klamath Falls, as well as farmers, ranchers and others in the river’s watershed.
Advocates of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, a document that advocates removal of four dams if studies indicate it’s feasible, say dam removal would help ease pollution reduction requirements by allowing the river to flow freely and removing sources of temperature and algae pollution.
But opponents say removing dams won’t have any impact on pollution, and would eliminate a source of power, causing electricity costs to increase.
California’s Klamath River pollution plan is “agnostic in regard to dam removal,” said Gail Louis, environmental protection specialist, EPA water division.
“If the dams come out, there are certain pieces (of the plan) that would be more quickly resolved,” Louis said, but the plan doesn’t depend on or expect dam removal.
Pollution reduction plans are called total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs, and regulate how much pollution sources such as municipalities, agriculture, and dams can release into water bodies each day.
California’s TMDL requires stakeholders to annually reduce phosphorous loads in the Klamath River by 22,000 pounds and nitrogen levels 120,000 pounds.
A court ordered final EPA approval by the end of 2010. That approval launched a 60-day countdown for California stakeholders to write plans on how they ’ll reduce their pollution loads by the required amounts: phosphorous by 57 percent, nitrogen by 32 percent, carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand by 16 percent.
The most substantial reductions are required from the Oregon-California border through the Klamath Hydroelectric Project that includes dams in Klamath and Siskiyou counties. That area also must reduce temperature and algae associated with the dams.
“The potential for dam removal could be a significant catalyst (to reduce pollutants),” said Sue Keydel, environmental scientist, EPA water division. “But it’s not going to instantaneously fix them all.”
Dams produce heat that increases water temperature and hurts aquatic life, she said, and reservoirs behind dams are breeding grounds for algae that suck oxygen from the water and can be toxic to mammals.
But Upper Klamath Lake, which has had a TMDL since 2002, has a blue-green algae problem and “significant loads” flow downstream to the Klamath River, impacting its TMDLs in both Oregon and California, Keydel said.
According to the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, dam owner PacifiCorp would remove four dams along the Klamath River, paid for in part by a surcharge on power customers’ bills. Over 10 years, California customers will pay $250 million and Oregon customers will pay $100 million.
The settlement is associated with the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which seeks to establish sustainable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators, help the Klamath Tribes acquire 92,000 acres of timberland, and fund habitat restoration and economic development in the region.
Pollution plan under review
Oregon’s plan for Klamath River submitted to EPA
The final pollution reduction plan for the Klamath River in Oregon is nearly identical to the draft that drew scathing criticism from Klamath County leaders, irrigators and others who said the proposed requirements — particularly for phosphorous — would cost between $12 million and $200 million to implement.
Oregon DEQ last week submitted the final plan for the Klamath River to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for approval, expected by Jan. 20.
DEQ officials during public meetings and in written responses said they understood the cost burden, but had to fulfill federal requirements in the Clean Water Act.
The EPA approved California’s plan last week.
Klamath Falls city officials told federal officials that establishing downstream pollution loads first forced the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to reduce upstream loads to nearly unattainable levels.
The plans, called total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs, regulate how much pollution sources like municipal wastewater treatment facilities can release into water bodies each day.
Oregon’s Klamath River TMDL regulates phosphorous , nitrogen, biological oxygen demand and temperature. The biggest problem for stakeholders is the phosphorous allocation; the order requires a 91 percent reduction from the current level.
Stakeholders say it naturally exists in Upper Klamath Lake — 76 percent of the total load comes from the lake, compared to 3 percent from the city — so filtering it to the mandated degree is impossible.
The city already meets biological oxygen demand requirements and can meet nitrogen and temperature requirements once it finishes planned improvements to the wastewater treatment facility.
Page Updated: Thursday January 06, 2011 04:04 AM Pacific
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