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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Keno Reservoir and Interim Dam License Conditions – A Klamath Sleeper Issue

by Felice Pace
While it has been intentionally mystified and ignored, what will be included in Interim License Conditions for Klamath River Dams is likely one of the most important issues which will impact the fate of Klamath Salmon, the health of the River and its communities for the next 20 years or more. Interim Conditions refers to changes in operations and other actions which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can require PacifiCorp to take between now and when the dams are either relicensed for 50 years, removed or transferred to other ownership. This could take a long time and during that time the fate of Klamath River Coho and Spring Chinook could be sealed…..one way or the other.

Several environmental and fishermen’s organizations and at least two tribes supported PacifiCorp’s recent attempt to get California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to “suspend” consideration of whether the dams can meet water quality standards established to protect the Public Trust and the beneficial uses of water. These organizations argued that PacifiCorp was making a good faith efforts toward a dam settlement which would remove four of the five mainstem dams and transfer a fifth dam – Keno – to the Bureau of Reclamation. Because of PacifiCorp’s good faith, these groups argued, the company should not be required to participate in a water quality study which would be moot if the dams are removed.

However, these PacifiCorp apologists failed to mention that the water quality studies which PacifiCorp wants “suspended” will also recommend the Interim Conditions which PacifiCorp will be required by FERC to implement until the dams are finally licensed, removed or transferred. The apologists also failed to mention that the state water quality studies and Interim License Conditions are the only way that California can get PacifiCorp to do its part in cleaning-up Klamath River pollution under a plan currently being developed by the North Coast Water Quality Control Board.

How do self-proclaimed Klamath Defenders become apologists for the interests of PacifiCorp and Warren Buffet? The answer has a lot to do with ego, funding and future career prospects: the removal of Klamath River Dams will advance the careers of those who can claim credit whether or not Klamath Salmon and the future health of the River are compromised in the process.

With several of the Klamath’s most prominent Defenders so committed to dam removal that they will work for PacifiCorp’s interest in order to facilitate a dam removal deal, it falls to others to take up the slack. The Hoopa Tribe is doing its share – focusing on Interim Conditions for dam operations. But so far the Hoopa have only pushed for interim flows within the Klamath Hydroelectric Project Area. While this issue is important (see KlamBlog’s January 27th post), the most important issue which needs to be addressed in Interim Conditions is the poor water quality behind PacifiCorp’s Keno Dam, i.e. in Keno Reservoir.

Also known as Lake Ewana, Keno Reservoir consistently contains water of the worst quality found anywhere in the Klamath River Basin. Fish kills occur in the Reservoir nearly every year. The water quality related die-offs are downplayed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and local media. For example, a recent news article in the Klamath Falls Herald and News gave the impression that the fish kills are normal because they happen nearly every year. But these fish kills include endangered Kuptu and Tsuam (sucker species) and they are in no way natural.

Keno Reservoir makes the polluted agricultural wastewater it receives much worse because the extensive marshes which once rimmed the area are now mostly gone – replaced by irrigated agriculture, a plywood mill, a power plant and livestock operations. If it is not cleaned up, Keno Reservoir could be a death trap for salmon and steelhead trying to navigate to and from the Upper Basin once the other four dams are removed.

It is essential to recovery of Klamath Salmon and to the restoration of the Klamath River that the pollution at Keno Reservoir is addressed now – through Interim Conditions for PacifiCorp’s continued operation of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project. For one thing we may have to wait more than a decade for dam removal to even begin. Most importantly, if we don’t address Keno pollution now the mandate for cleaning it up will pass with the transfer of Keno Dam and Reservoir to the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). With its powerful irrigation clients opposed to clean-up, it would likely take years of litigation to get the BOR to clean-up Keno Reservoir.

Cleaning-up Keno is feasible but it will not be cheap. Decades of tree bark which has accumulated on the Reservoir’s bottom as a result of log storage must be removed and the ongoing storage of logs in the Reservoir must end. Either treatment plants or treatment wetlands must be put in place on the Klamath Straits and on the outflow from Upper Klamath Lake and the Lost River Diversion Channel. All three discharge polluted agricultural wastewater into Keno Reservoir.

The most cost effective method for cleaning up Keno would involve the restoration of Lower Klamath Lake whose extensive wetlands once stored and cleaned high winter and spring flows for later release to the River. Studies of existing permanent and seasonal wetlands in the Lower Klamath area demonstrate that they effectively remove phosphorus and other nutrients from water which passes through them. Restoring Lower Klamath Lake would provide many other benefits including to waterfowl, Bald eagles, duck hunters, bird watchers and the local economy. But it is fiercely opposed by the Irrigation Elite who want to maximize the amount of public and private lands which they can lease at low rates and then farm with high profit margins.

What this all means is that the decision of the SWRCB to continue the water quality studies and to recommend Interim Conditions for reservoir clean-up to FERC is a victory for the River and Klamath Salmon. But that victory is partial at best. Will the SWRCB focus on Keno and tell FERC to require that PacifiCorp develop and implement a clean-up plan BEFORE it is allowed to transfer the dam and reservoir to the Bureau of Reclamation? With many Klamath Defenders preoccupied with dam negotiations or shilling for PacifiCorp, it may be necessary for ordinary citizens and new organizations to step up and demand the clean-up. This may already be happening. An action alert on Klamath water quality issues was recently circulated by an entity calling itself Klamath First Advocates – a name which has not been seen before. The entity has yet to define itself publicly.

Citizens who want to support the clean-up of Keno Reservoir before it is transferred to the BOR should let the SWRCB, NCWQCB and FERC know that this is a priority. Tell them that Interim Conditions for operation of the Klamath River Dams must include a requirement that PacifiCorp develop a clean-up plan, time-lines and clean-up financing plan for Keno Reservoir before it is transferred to the BOR. Contact information is provided below.

Tam Doduc & Jennifer Watts
California State Water Resources Control Board
P.O. Box 2000
Sacramento, CA 95812-2000
Via e-mail: TDoduc@waterboards.ca.gov

Ms. Catherine Kuhlman, Executive Officer
North Coast Water Quality Control Board
5550 Skylane Blvd.
Santa Rosa, CA. 95403
Via e-mail: CKuhlman@waterboards.ca.gov

Magalie Roman Salas, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Project P-2082-027
888 First Street NE
Washington, DC 20426



Felice Pace is affiliated with Klamath Forest Alliance, and formerly with the Yurok Tribe. KFA helped get Klamath Riverkeeper on it's feet, a group spearheaded by Craig Tucker from Friends of the River, international dam removal activists. Tucker presently is spokesman for the Karuk tribe and KBRA/dam removal advocate.

In the fall of 1851, long before the Klamath Reclamation Project was built, George Gibbs accompanied an expedition of Colonel Redick McKee through the Klamath River and up the Scott River into Scott Valley.  Gibbs was a graduate of Harvard University and traveled West, when the California Gold Rush was in progress. George Gibbs’ Journal of Redick McKee’s Expedition Through Northwestern California in 1851. Gibbs reported the Klamath River was of poor quality.  In one entry, he said, “In camping on the Klamath, it is necessary to seek the neighborhood of the brooks, especially that this season; as the water, never pure, is now offensive from the number of dead salmon.”

Gail Whitsett earned her master’s in geology from Oregon State University and worked in oil exploration and development. Her studies showed that millions of tons of phosphorus-rich sediment at the bottom of Klamath Lake are actually derived from phosphorus- rich bedrock, naturally eroded from mountains surrounding the lake.

Her husband, a retired Klamath Basin veterinarian, Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, said, “As cattle develop, they convert vegetative phosphorus into muscle and bone. Ranchers are being blamed for polluting the waters with phosphorus while the cattle above the lake are removing as much as 300 tons of phosphorus out of the Upper Klamath Basin each year. What they said the cattle were doing to the lake is impossible.”

The Department of the Interior organized a science workshop in Klamath Falls February 3, 2004: http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/science/science

One speaker was Dr. William Lewis Jr., University of Colorado, Chairman of the National Research Council Committee on Threatened and Endangered Fishes in the Klamath River Basin.

Lewis was asked about making more wetlands for suckers, and he responded that there are 17,000 acres of restoration already. He cautioned that we shouldn't put too much faith into wetlands regarding the suppression of algae. Someone tried to compare algae bloom in Lake Washington.  Lewis said they got Lake Washington turned around by ceasing to pour 90% of the sewage into it. He added that we should not count on retiring agricultural land for saving suckers.  

Jacob Kann, ecologist and scientist for Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, insisted that timing and flows are related to the ph levels. Lewis responded that the water is always ph loaded, "the increase doesn't matter if it's always been saturated."

When asked if it would work to control the significant part of the ph load, Lewis responded that the lake is 140 square miles...that is not feasible to change.  It is not like Lake Washington where they had sewage to cut off.

To date, more than 97,000 acres north of the Klamath Reclamation Project of agricultural land have been acquired by Government agencies and The Nature Conservancy with the stated goal of improving water quality and quantity, and storage. With evaporation of this shallow warm water, the water quantity available to the Klamath Lake has decreased, temperature has increased, and phosphorus level has increased.

So the nearly100,000 acres of relatively new wetlands has not helped water quality. So Mr Paces' 'solution' of acquiring more farmland will not work to help water quality. The gov't and environmental groups did that and everything got worse. Environmentalists seem to think the solution to growing fish and caretaking land is government acquisition...it is not working well here. Pace said the extensive marshes are almost gone. We have nearly 100,000 acres of extensive marshes. See our Refuge Pages.

Pace claims the water is "polluted agricultural wastewater." According to Ron Cole with Tulelake Fish and Wildlife Refuges, there is no smoking gun as far as agriculture harming wildlife. There have been dozens of studies with no ill-effect of our tightly controlled pesticides and fertilizers.

According to the California Waterfowl Association, the Klamath Basin farms provide over 50% of the feed for wildlife, the rest coming from natural sources.  There are 200 million waterfowl use days here, totaling over 70 million tons of food required by these birds. That makes 70 million tons of goose poop, or maybe more since poop adds water. That's a lot of nitrogen. Would Pace  like us to kill off the birds to decrease the nitrogen?

A study by the University of California Davis found that the naturally ph loaded water from the water's source had less minerals after it was filtered through the farms.

The proposed tools to "clean up" the water that was "ph loaded" and "saturated" from it's source, Pace recommends more wetlands and treatment plants, although National Academy of Science Dr William Lewis said this saturated water was always that way. These are coincidently the same proposals of the California State Water Resources Control Board to make our water pristine. Go HERE for the agenda of the Control Board in their Cal/EPA Environmental Justice Action Plan.

We do agree with Mr. Pace on a few things.

* Negotiations by the elite group of "stakeholders" in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement should not be in secret and without transparency and community input when our environment, communities, economies, fish and farms are at stake.

* Ripping out dams won't 'clean up' the water, especially since it is naturally saturated from it's source.

While we're on the subject, written KBRA secret and later disclosed agenda: "Jon Hicks from Rec has been approached with this question before .PC has been having discussions with Reclamation re Keno and Link River dam going forward towards an ultimate dam removal."

There are groups within the KBRA "stakeholders" who have written the California Water Board proposing the removal of Keno Dam.

According to a water district manager, "Keno Dam maintains the water level in Klamath River from Keno to and including Lake Ewauna.  If Keno dam is removed the water level in Klamath River would drop and there would be no irrigation for water users in the Klamath River.  Some of  those irrigators are:  All with land adjacent to the Klamath River, KDD, Fish and Wildlife Service and TID."

If you do not think Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers should be required to make their naturally saturated water pristine, water which historically was never pure, write the folks in the left column. Some might venture to believe that this "phosphorus-rich" bedrock and sediment were from time immemorial meant to be that way for a reason.

Around 1900, Link River, between Upper Klamath Lake and Lake Ewauna, occasionally went dry before the Klamath Project was built. There was no hydropower, no hatcheries, occasionally no fish (fish need water), no artificially-raised river flows or lake levels. The KBRA demands salmon and fish parasites/lamprey are introduced in phosphorus-rich, shallow, warm, historically algae-laden Klamath Lake. Could it be that salmon weren't intended to live in this murky lake? Because if they indeed lived there, we doubt the Indians would have eaten suckers for their sustenance rather than salmon.

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              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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