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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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by Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong 3/6/09

Last week at a public meeting held at Willow Creek School, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) “scoped” implementation ideas for the Klamath River Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs.) http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/  Public comments are due by March 27.
Under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and CA Porter Cologne Water Quality Act, the many “beneficial uses” for rivers in California are determined. For example, among these uses are “cold water fisheries” (salmon and steelhead,) recreation, and hydropower. “Pollutants” are considered to be factors that do not “support” the particular beneficial uses of a river. For example high water temperature does not support cold water fisheries.
The Klamath River is listed on the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)  303(d) list of “impaired” water bodies for the following pollutants: nutrients and organic matter; high temperatures; low dissolved oxygen; and the blue-green algae toxin mycrosystin. These have been determined not to support the cold water fishery and tribal cultural uses of the river. Currently, the technical data and modeling prepared for the Klamath TMDL listing is still under “peer review” by fellow scientists.         
The Klamath tributary watersheds of Beaver /Horse Creek and Indian Creek are also under consideration for listing due to excessive sediment. (This is based on Klamath National Forest data. There is currently an open comment period on this pollutant listing proposal.) TMDLs and EPA approved implementing action plans for the Shasta and Scott River tributaries have already been completed and are in place. According to NCRWQCB staff, they also comply with the Klamath TMDL and will not have to be further altered. Although TMDLs have been established for the Trinity River tributary, no implementing action plan has been approved. (In fact of the 38 segments of 17 rivers for which the EPA was to establish TMDLs and implementing action plans, only the Scott, Shasta and Garcia Rivers have been completed.)
NCRWQCB staff explained that the technical TMDL will establish the amount of pollutants attributed to man that can be allowed to enter the Klamath River. This is based on the capacity of the river to handle the pollutants and still support the beneficial uses. “Point Source Pollution” – pollution that enters through a specific source like a pipe, requires a federal NPDES permit. (This includes identified sources such as the Iron Gate Hatchery.)  Non-point sources are either prohibited or will require either an individual Waste Discharge Requirement (WDR) permit which costs money, or a WDR waiver that requires land managers to adopt certain Best Management Practices (BMPs.) The main activities identified as producing non-point source (NPS) pollution were timber, grazing, roads and irrigated agriculture. 
The Klamath TMDL will have opportunities to handle pollution in different ways. For instance, rather than attempt to clear algae from reservoirs, PacifiCorp/Power’s ratepayers may be asked to fund the establishment of wetlands in the upper basin to filter nutrients or perhaps fund a water treatment plant at a narrow point like the Klamath Straits Drain to treat the water or mechanically remove algae and organic matter before it comes down river. This is called “trading.” Another approach might be to have polluters, (identified as timber, grazing, roads and irrigated ag,) to fund restoration of their watershed to improve the overall ability of the river to handle “pollutants.” BMPs would include retention of riparian shade, sediment control, and protection from warm water runoff. The NCRWQCB is also considering establishing no-use buffers around the mouths of tributaries that serve as cold water “refugia,” (cold water holes or spring-fed spots where fish can gather and escape from warmer water elsewhere in the river.)
KLAMATH DAMS: Last week the Board of Supervisors released a series of briefings and letters concerning the ongoing Klamath Dam issue. Copies can be found here posted on 3/4/09 http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/.   Of particular interest is this document:  http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/settlement/SiskSupStatementCDMRept030409.pdf

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