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Klamath consultation in doubt
Fishery agencies demand specifics

Tam Moore, Capital Press 11/24/06

Two federal fishery agencies have told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it needs to be more specific before starting any Klamath River consultation under the Endangered Species Act.

On top of that, in filings last week with the FERC, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation warned the agency that it seems to be considering ordering downstream flows that exceed existing water rights for the four hydroelectric dams that PacifiCorp wants to license.

Phil Detrich, field supervisor of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Klamath office, has put off a December Endangered Species Act consultation over Klamath hydroelectric dams.

PacifiCorp has a 225-cubic-foot-per-second Oregon water right for power generation at Keno, Ore., where diversion begins for the dams.

The FERC in early October proposed a round of consultations between state and federal agencies to satisfy ESA requirements. They are scheduled for Dec. 12-14 in Redding, Calif. The filings by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and Reclamation put that part of the complex relicensing process in doubt. PacifiCorp's 50-year license to operate expired early this year. The power company is operating on a year-to-year extension while new license conditions are negotiated.

"The (Fish and Wildlife) Service has determined that insufficient information has been provided to initiate formal consultation because the proposed action for the license is not fully developed," wrote Phil Detrich, field supervisor of the USFWS office in Yreka, Calif.

The FERC last week began a round of public hearings on a draft environmental impact statement that gives four alternatives for issuing a Klamath license. Hearings end Nov. 29, and the final EIS is expected by April.

However, under federal law, it's up to the five-member commission to pick terms for the license. To complicate things, private talks between stakeholders continue, and they could yield conditions different from those in the draft EIS.

"Formal consultation of proposed actions that are not well defined or developed would require an unnecessary commitment of agency time and resources," Detrich wrote.

He also reminded FERC staff that it issued the draft EIS without waiting for an administrative law judge's findings on factual issues challenged by PacifiCorp.

Toby Freeman, in charge of PacifiCorp's relicensing team, said two weeks ago that the "high profile" of the Klamath gives it special attention with the FERC. In 2001 ESA considerations upstream of all but two small generation plants not part of PacifiCorp's application led Reclamation to renege on water delivery contracts to 1,100 farms; the next summer tens of thousands of returning salmon died of disease while "kegged up" in the lower river; then this year anticipated low returns of fall chinook led to a near-total ban on commercial salmon fishing of 700 miles of coast off Oregon and California.

Klamath coho salmon, under ESA protection since 1997, are at the heart of NMFS biological opinions controlling downstream discharge of water released from Reclamation's Klamath Project reservoirs.

Both NMFS and the FWS want fish passage restored above the lowest dam, favoring construction of fishways or removal of the dams. FERC staff proposed a less-expensive "trap and haul" system that would carry migrating fish around the dams by truck.

In the upper basin, the FWS gives ESA protection to two kinds of sucker fish native to basin lakes and streams, plus bald eagles, Northern spotted owls, bull trout, a frog and several plants threatened with extinction. Reservoir levels are dictated by a sucker fish biological opinion.

Rodney McInnis, the regional NMFS administrator, told the FERC, "There is no way to tell how much of the staff (proposed) alternative will end up as part of the proposed action." He filed a 15-page letter with copies to dozens of Klamath stakeholders.

The bottom line is McInnis' insistence that the ESA requires a description of "the action" to be considered, not a suite of alternate actions. NMFS also said federal law required additional consultations, beyond the ESA, because the Klamath is home to several migratory fish in addition to coho salmon.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is tmoore@capital press.com.

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