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Group threatens suit over Siskiyou County dam
By TIM HEARDEN, Capital Press March 12, 2012
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
by Ryan Sabalow 3/13/12
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