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Group threatens suit over Siskiyou County dam

By TIM HEARDEN, Capital Press March 12, 2012
KBC NOTE: Craig Tucker, Karuk Tribe spokesman, and KBRA "Stakeholder" Craig Tucker, formerly Friends of the River spokesman, was trained by Green Corp, and is currently on Riverkeeper board of directors, and was on the steering committee of Klamath Riverkeeper before it spun off from umbrella group Klamath Forest Alliance. Tucker and Petey Brucker, both KBRA voting members, are both with KFA and Riverkeeper board. KBRA advocates claimed it would end lawsuits, however the same people, on a different board, sued to shut down Klamath River mining, and now are suing to destroy another dam. George Soros funds Earthjustice which litigates for Klamath Riverkeeper, Friends of the River, Waterkeeper Alliance, and other environmental groups at the KBRA negotiation table.

MONTAGUE, Calif. - An environmental group is threatening to sue a water district in this Siskiyou County community, claiming that operation of a roughly 90-year-old dam is causing losses of federally listed coho salmon.

The Orleans, Calif.-based Klamath Riverkeeper, which was a party in an earlier lawsuit over water diversions by ranchers in the county, has given the Montague Water Conservation District 60 days to come up with a solution for imperiled fish.

The group believes Dwinnell Dam, which creates the Shastina Reservoir and provides water for agricultural and residential customers, has caused a loss of 20 percent of habitat for coho in the Shasta River since it was built in the 1920s, said Erica Terence, the group's executive director.

"That's an important amount of habitat," Terence said. "It's difficult to deny that after the dam was built, the coho population went into a steep decline. Only one out of three generations of coho that come back to spawn in the Shasta River is considered biologically viable."

Terence said the district is violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to obtain incidental take permits for the salmon. She said the group wants the district to either remove the dam or build a fish passage and take other measures to protect the coho.

"We did feel it was necessary to put them on notice," Terence said, adding she hopes the issue is settled out of court. "They had at least 15 years of operating this dam since coho salmon were put on the endangered species list as threatened."

Lisa Faris, the Montague water district's office manager, said she would wait to comment until after its board discussed the issue at its regularly scheduled March 13 meeting.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is taking no enforcement actions against the district, said Don Flickinger, the agency's natural resources management specialist in Yreka, Calif. However, if the dam's operation is resulting in the taking of coho, the district does need to contact the agency about permits, he said.

"If the water district makes a good faith effort to contact (NMFS), that would be a good way of working together to find ways of avoiding that kind of take," Flickinger said.

Klamath Riverkeeper's notice of intent to sue, which it issued March 12, is only the latest in a series of skirmishes between environmental groups and landowners over the use of water from the Shasta and Scott rivers, which are key tributaries of the Klamath River. Already, environmentalists and the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau have separately sued the California Department of Fish and Game over how it enforces rules regarding water diversions from the two rivers.

Dwinnell Dam is not one of the four dams suggested for removal under the Klamath Basin agreement.


Klamath Riverkeeper: http://www.klamathriver.org/



Group plans to sue to remove Dwinnell Dam in Siskiyou County

Riverkeeper: Lake Shastina barrier hurts coho

Photo courtesy of Klamath Riverkeeper
Klamath Riverkeeper says it will sue to remove or modify the Dwinnell Dam that creates Lake Shastina in Siskiyou County. The suit would be part of a larger effort to restore coho salmon runs in the county.

Photo courtesy of Klamath Riverkeeper Klamath Riverkeeper says it will sue to remove or modify the Dwinnell Dam that creates Lake Shastina in Siskiyou County. The suit would be part of a larger effort to restore coho salmon runs in the county.

by Ryan Sabalow 3/13/12

An environmental group said Monday it intends to sue a Montague water district over Dwinnell Dam, the barrier that blocks the Shasta River and forms the reservoir that gives the Siskiyou County community of Lake Shastina its name.

Erica Terence, conservation and executive director of Orleans-based Klamath Riverkeeper, said the dam blocks 20 percent of traditional Shasta-run coho salmon spawning habitat.

"We really want the water conservation district to find a way to operate that will meet the biological needs of these coho salmon," Terence said.

That may mean the earthen dam needs to come down or the Montague Water Conservation District can come up with an alternative solution, such as building a fish passage around the dam or other habitat improvements, to ensure coho get to their native spawning grounds, Terence said.

Supervisor Michael Kobseff said another protracted fight over removing a dam is not something the county needs.

"It would be devastating," he said. "Let's face it."

Kobseff is among those fighting an ongoing push to have four dams removed farther upstream on the Klamath River. The Shasta and its sister river, the Scott, feed into the Klamath below those dams.

He said the community of Lake Shastina, north of Weed, has grown to nearly 1,200 homes in what's been one of the fastest-growing areas of the county. The lake also is a popular boating, swimming and fishing spot, particularly in the spring and early summer.

He said just the threat of the lake's demise will cause home values to tank, similar to the way prices have plummeted near Copco Lake, one of the reservoirs dammed on the Klamath.

"This is déjà vu," he said.

Terence acknowledged the lawsuit won't be popular with homeowners in the area.

The reservoir helps supply water for Montague, a town of about 1,400 people east of Yreka.

Farmers and ranchers in the area also use water diverted from the reservoir, which holds back part of Parks Creek, a Shasta River tributary.

Terence said the notice, filed Monday, gives the district 60 days to come up with a solution out of court before an official suit is filed.

A district spokeswoman said Monday no one was available to comment but she said the district's board's regular meeting is today, and the topic will be addressed.

Coho salmon on the Shasta and the Scott rivers are listed as threatened under the state and federal endangered species acts.

Klamath Riverkeeper is one of a number of groups — including commercial and recreational fishing organizations and Klamath River Indian tribes — that have sued to challenge irrigation practices along the streams.

The lawsuits and government officials' attempts to regulate farmers' water use have caused a political backlash in Siskiyou County. Farmers and their political allies say the groups are threatening their livelihoods in one of the few industries economically struggling Siskiyou County has left.

But Terence says she's striving for a solution that will benefit farmers and fishermen, while keeping fish populations healthy.

Terence said the canal filled from Lake Shastina often has more water than the river in dry months, so much so she's heard stories of locals swimming in the canals during the summer.

"We are always striving for fishable, swimmable rivers in the Klamath watershed," she said.

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