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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Dams, water quality, temperature and 20 million yards of toxic sediment

Several representatives have spoken to service groups here in the Klamath Basin. They represent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Servcie plus the newly created Klamath River Dam Removal Corporation (KRRC).

Their collective comments plus an article in the Herald and News on March 28 prompted this writer to question information and facts on what are the expectations, and who will be accountable for the success of this major initiative.

There have been several articles in the paper that have made specific references to improving water quality in the Klamath River with the removal of the dams plus the possibility of “freeing up the 50,000 acre feet of water for agriculture,” that is reserved to help flush the river.

Coupled this are the unanswered questions of will the removal improve water quality and will it provide lower temperatures so that the fish can survive?

These questions remain unanswered. Before we move forward with spending the $200 million of ratepayers assessment for this project, we do need answers and guarantees that this will really work.

A shallow, warm lake

Let’s first take a look at the source of the Klamath River. Klamath Lake is what limnologists call a eutrophic lake. For the lay person it is a lake near the end of its life that has become very shallow and very warm during the summer months. Temperatures have been reported at or near the surface of close to 80 degrees fahrenheit.

Studies by government agencies have revealed that the nitrogen and phosphorus level in the lake water and sediment are very high which all contribute to the high concentrations of algae seen in the lake.

Additionally, we need to consider the physical nature of the lake. In the late 1990s and early 2000, environmental organizations have taken several thousand of acres of farmland adjacent to the upper end of Klamath Lake and turned them in to marshlands. This can also be contributing to the warming of the waters in the Lake.

It was also interesting to note that a recent speaker from the US Fish and Wildlife noted that the decline of the adult sucker population in the lake has been declining since the year 2000. There has been an extensive effort by the USF&W folks to rear suckers to sustain the population of adult sucker fish.

Cooler waters questionable

Could the data presented show that the creation of new marshlands has had just the opposite effect and is now really detrimental to the sucker fish?

Now let’s look at the dams on the Klamath River. If you take Copco 1 Dam as a representative sample of the dams to be removed, the intakes for the power sources are drawn approximately near the top one third of the dam to supply generation power.

There appears to be no bottom or lower draw point in the structure thus preventing flushing services during warm water season, hence they cannot really contribute to providing beneficial cooling waters to mitigate the high temperature water coming from Klamath Lake.

Aside from that issue is the real question of the 20 million cubic yards of “toxic” sediment behind the dams as reported in the Herald and News. There was no explanation offered by the representative on how that would be managed.

In fact, the silence was deafening; hence do we really know how long it will take to eliminate the toxic threat of the sediment behind the dams? Could there be a new requirement to release more water from the upper basin to mitigate the sediment issue? Could the requirement for additional water so as to help flush out the river, now also come from the Trinity River?

Before, we as taxpayers and ratepayers, plus Pacific Power, spend close to half of a billion dollars to remove the dams; what assurance do we have that the removal will work and who will be responsible, if it doesn’t?



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