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Officials Debate Lost River TMDL's

Capital Press by Jacqui Krizo, 6/29/07

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held an informational meeting on June 25 in Tulelake to discuss with
interested parties a 51-page draft water quality document that will regulate the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)
for the Lower Lost River in Northern California.

Jacqui Krizo/For the Capital Press
Klamath Water Users Association President Luther Horsley, right, and KWUA Executive Director Greg Addington were among those in the audience who expressed concerns over the EPA’s Lost River water quality regulations for Klamath Project irrigators.
Comments addressing the draft TMDLs are due by July
Address letters to Gail
Louis, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 75 Hawthorne Street (WTR-3), San Francisco, CA 94105.
You may fax Louis at 415-947-3537,
or e-mail comments to
louis.gail@epa.gov, followed by a mailed hard copy. The draft TMDL documents are available on the EPA website: www.epa.gov/region09/
In accordance with a consent decree, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, et al. v. Marcus, the TMDLs necessary for Lost River must be completed by 2007. The State of California did not have the resources, so the EPA will establish the TMDLs instead.

Gail Louis from the U.S. EPA explained how the agency looked at water conditions and tried to identify which conditions came from point sources like a pipe, non-point sources like fields, and natural background conditions. The report calls for a 50 percent reduction in nutrient loads in these waterways and contains more than 65 “recommendations” for irrigators to perform, including schedules and timetables.

Some of the recommendations include minimizing use of fertilizers, not discharging irrigation tailwaters into watercourses, lining ditches, building recovery ponds, providing more wildlife habitat, establishing basin-wide monitoring program and stations, establishing a memorandum of understanding with the agency and more.

Andrew Parker, from the Tetra Tech consulting firm, contracted by the EPA, helped answer questions.

Irrigators expressed concern that much of the data for the TMDLs was generalized. Parker said they averaged what data they had. He said the TMDLs were based on 1999 conditions, they check samples at one time, and there is a level of uncertainty. “They don’t mimic exact timing and location on all water quality conditions,” he said. “If we don’t have data, we have to make assumptions; there were a lot of situations we made assumptions.”

Luther Horsley, president of Klamath Water Users Association, said the standards seem unachievable given the historical natural conditions of the huge nutrient load while irrigation has improved water quality in some areas. “Are we trying to make the water quality better than it was historically? In 1909 this water quality was considered natural, but today they call the same quality ‘polluted.’”

Parker said natural conditions weren’t explicitly addressed.

Since the water quality was bad on some charts only 2 to 3 percent of the time, a scientist asked why the load needed to be reduced 50 percent since the medium was below average for nutrients. Parker responded that criteria were set at the mandatory minimum level.

John Hicks from the Bureau of Reclamation said that with this document’s lack of data and uncertainty, every environmental group could take the irrigators to court.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said, “EPA readily acknowledges they have no authority to require an implementation plan, yet the draft TMDL contains a recommended implementation plan. If EPA feels they need to make recommendations, they should do so in a separate document.”

Oregon State Sen. Doug Whitsett, commenting on the document, said the Clean Water Act process for establishing TMDLs for the Lost River has two basic flaws:

“The first flaw is that the Lost River is treated as a tributary to the Klamath River even though it was historically a land-locked river system. No background levels can be established for comparison with current nutrient and temperature loads because the current river flow as a tributary to the Klamath River did not exist historically.

“The second flaw is the assumption that certain predetermined water temperatures or nutrient concentrations are achievable in all streams. Those assumptions were not applicable to the Lost River before channel modifications due to very low river gradient and very high background levels of phosphorous, and they are certainly not applicable to the river after channel modifications.”

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