[env-trinity] News on Klamath FERC Relicensing
tstokely at trinityalps.net
Fri Mar 31 09:28:32 PST 2006
Dams must pass fish
Eureka Times-Standard - 3/30/06
By John Driscoll, staff writer
Federal officials will require the owner of the hydropower project on the Klamath River to put in fish ladders or other structures to allow salmon past its dams as a condition of getting its federal license renewed.
The U.S. Interior and Commerce departments' insistence that installing fish ways -- which could cost $60 million to $200 million -- could make it difficult for PacifiCorp to profitably operate the project, and some say that could prompt a settlement with tribes, conservation groups, farmers and fishermen to take down the dams. The departments also demanded that most water diverted from the Klamath for power at J.C. Boyle Dam be sent into the river instead, which would sharply reduce power generation at a key PacifiCorp facility.
The departments don't have the authority to demand decommissioning the dams. That's left to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is overseeing the complex relicensing effort. PacifiCorp's license expired this month, and it will now rely on an annual license to operate.
Fish ladders could open up about 60 miles of river to chinook salmon, steelhead and lamprey and threatened coho salmon, and with further restoration efforts, eventually allow fish to reach historic spawning grounds in streams above Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon. The conditions released Wednesday also protect water intakes at Keno Dam, keeping in place vital infrastructure for U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project irrigators.
"Restoring access to good-quality spawning and rearing habitat above Iron Gate Dam is a major step in rebuilding healthy salmon runs and fisheries that depend on them," said Jim Lecky, regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "It creates the opportunity to reconnect the Klamath basin, from headwaters to the ocean."
While the river has its share of troubles, the dams are of significant concern. They block fish from reaching spawning grounds, they heat water in reservoirs, prompt algae blooms -- including highly toxic algae -- and degrade water quality in the river. That is believed to have serious effects, especially on young salmon, which may be more vulnerable to deadly parasites when stressed by hot, slow, alkaline water.
Federal fisheries managers are now considering sharp cutbacks or elimination of fishing in the river and along hundreds of miles of coastline to protect low numbers of salmon. That could cost coastal economies about $150 million.
There are no fish ladders on the lowermost Iron Gate Dam or at Copco I and Copco II dams. The agencies wrote that PacifiCorp would also have to rebuild its antiquated fish passage facility at J.C. Boyle.
Yurok Tribe biologist Dave Hillemeier said he was pleased with the federal agencies' commitment to begin helping the ailing river. Hillemeier hopes that PacifiCorp might realize the costs of the improvements outweigh the benefits.
"Our hope is they'll do the right thing and remove at least four antiquated dams that produce a minimal amount of electricity from the mainstem river," Hillemeier said.
The whole project produces about 150 megawatts of electricity, about enough for 150,000 households. Any group that disputes the conditions can request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
There are parallel settlement talks occurring alongside the relicensing process. Representatives from the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa Valley and Klamath tribes, counties in Northern California and Oregon, agencies, fishing groups and conservation organizations have been meeting regularly.
PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme said that he's not surprised about the terms and conditions. He said the company has until April 15 to file its comments about the demands.
But Kvamme said that the utility, which has settled disputes over six other projects, believes that there is more leeway in the parallel discussions.
Three of those have led to the removal of dams, he said. Kvamme said the company is hoping to find a practical solution that protects its shareholders.
"I think it's been our preference all along to find solution in the settlement process," Kvamme said. "You can be more creative in the settlement process."
While the talks are confidential, removal of the dams is undoubtedly a part of the discussions. Language that could provide funds from California to go toward such an effort was in an infrastructure bond that failed in recent weeks -- ironically, because of sparring over money for a new dam in the San Joaquin Valley. But supporters of the measure say that the language is likely to find its way into another bond measure, which, if passed, would go before voters in November.
To help determine if such an enormous project is even feasible, the California Coastal Conservancy is working to find out what's behind the dams.
Sediment trapped in reservoirs sometimes contains toxins, and if it does in this case, it may be more complicated and expensive to take out the dams.
The federal requirements released Wednesday are further justification that the states need to fully study dam decommissioning, said Michael Bowen with the conservancy. But he said that PacifiCorp is stalling the project.
"The conservancy is trying to answer some basic questions about removal," Bowen wrote in an e-mail. "But unless PacifiCorp lightens up and lets us move forward quickly, our publicly funded study is dead in the algae-laden waters of the Klamath reservoirs."
The Interior and Commerce conditions are subject to public hearings. FERC is expected to come out with a draft environmental document in June, in which it will lay out a series of alternatives available for the PacifiCorp project. Bowen said the state study on trapped sediment and alternatives for fish passage will be critical to the federal agency as it weighs dam decommissioning as among the possibilities for the Klamath River. #
U.S. Acts to Help Wild Salmon in Klamath River; As stocks plummet, agencies demand remedies from the owner of hydroelectric dams. Options include fish ladders, demolition
Los Angeles Times - 3/30/06
By Eric Bailey, staff writer
SACRAMENTO - Federal wildlife agencies demanded Wednesday that the Klamath River's imperiled wild salmon be given a way to pass four towering hydroelectric dams that for nearly a century have blocked the waterway's upper spawning grounds.
The owner of the dams, PacifiCorp of Portland, Ore., could face a costly decision: Should it spend up to $175 million to erect very long fish ladders, or should it abandon the dams and undertake the nation's largest removal project?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal wildlife agencies presented their demands in response to PacifiCorp's application to renew its operating license for the dams.
The structures - combined with diversions for irrigation, polluted runoff from ranching, logging and other factors - have caused Klamath fish populations to plummet. Salmon runs have fallen so low in the last three years that federal regulators next week will decide whether to recommend that the annual fishing season be canceled.
PacifiCorp, owned by billionaire financial guru Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., has in recent years agreed to demolish three other hydroelectric dams, including a 150-foot-tall concrete structure on the White Salmon River in southwest Washington.
But that undertaking would be dwarfed by the scope of removing PacifiCorp's four dams on the Klamath, where worries over salmon have hurt farmers, whose irrigation supply was slashed in 2001. Also, commercial fishermen could lose this year's prized chinook catch.
"Something of this magnitude in terms of the number of dams and the sheer size is unprecedented," said Kelly Catlett, a policy advocate with Friends of the River in Sacramento. "This would be in a league of its own."
Company officials said they would consider appealing the demands of the wildlife agencies but remain optimistic that an agreement could be reached in talks that have been underway for more than a year with government agencies, Native American tribes, fishermen, farmers and other groups with a stake in the health of the Klamath River.
"We think the settlement process is a better way to go," said Dave Kvamme, a PacifiCorp spokesman. "You can get creative. You can take risks."
Steve Thompson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife's state operations officer, said those negotiations - conducted biweekly in closed-door sessions - are looking at potential remedies to the Klamath's myriad environmental problems, from its Oregon headwaters to where it pours into the Pacific north of Eureka, Calif.
"A settlement could tackle many more issues than just dams," Thompson said. But, he added, PacifiCorp probably would have to choose "what's the best business decision for them" to ensure that fish can reach the more than 350 miles of historic habitat in the river's upper basin.
The natural migration of salmon to Upper Klamath Lake and beyond into tributaries fed by the snowmelt of Oregon's Cascade Range was blocked by the completion of the first of the dams in 1918. Since then, half a dozen other dams have been erected on the Klamath, with the last of them - the earthen-sided Iron Gate Dam in California - the tallest of them all, rising 173 feet above the river.
Iron Gate and three other hydropower dams - J.C. Boyle and Copco 1 and 2 - are being considered for alteration or elimination because they pose the biggest barrier to fish. The three other dams on the river are small enough to be surmounted by fish ladders.
Critics of the four hydroelectric structures say they have combined with water diversions for agriculture and runoff from farms, logging and cattle grazing to brew environmental problems that threaten the river's salmon.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to decide early next year on whether to issue a new license to operate the dams.
Elimination of the four dams and the 151 megawatts of power they produce wouldn't come easy. The cost of demolition and river restoration has been estimated at $100 million by environmentalists and the tribes, but could climb higher if unforeseen obstacles emerged.
Some backers of dam decommissioning have proposed that the idea be sweetened for PacifiCorp with public funds and are pushing to include Klamath dam removal money in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed infrastructure bond measures.
"Dam removal is one piece of the puzzle, but it's a big piece," said Craig Tucker, a policy analyst with Northern California's Karuk Tribe, which has seen its Klamath catch nearly disappear. "There's no way you can conclude that the 151 megawatts those dams produce are more valuable to society than salmon."
Two other tribes - the Hoopa and Yurok - fish the river as part of their cultural heritage. Commercial fishermen estimate that the loss of this year's chinook salmon season could cost coastal economies $150 million.
The Klamath was once the nation's third-most productive salmon river, with up to 1.2 million salmon and steelhead trout joining an epic annual migration to spawn. Today, the river's coho salmon are on the endangered species list, and its chinook salmon are at record lows.
PacifiCorp's Kvamme said the company remained unconvinced that salmon would survive in the watershed's upper reaches.
Some university experts share that concern. Upper Klamath Lake has grown saturated with phosphorus runoff from the Cascades' volcanic slopes, compromising water quality. In addition, upstream tributaries are sullied by agricultural runoff and other pollution.
"My biggest worry is that expectations about the positive impacts of Klamath dam removal on salmon and steelhead may be raised too high," said Peter Moyle, a UC Davis professor of fish biology who helped look at the Klamath for a National Academy of Sciences study.
Meanwhile, the power the dams produce, though less than 2% of PacifiCorp's overall production of more than 8,000 megawatts, is still enough for 70,000 households, Kvamme noted. To replace that clean electricity, he said, would require burning 360,000 tons of coal or 5 million cubic feet of natural gas.
But critics say the power isn't worth the environmental and economic costs. A study by the California Energy Commission found that losing electricity from the dams would not significantly harm regional power production. The National Academy of Sciences and the California Water Resources Control Board have recommended a full evaluation of dam removal.
Other options include catching fish and hauling them around the dams, but that effort has not been very effective on the Columbia River and Northwest streams.
Construction of fish ladders over the dams could prove formidable. The ladders would have to step an exhausting 120 times to top Iron Gate Dam and run for nearly two miles. Biologists question if salmon and steelhead trout would even use the ladders. #
A good week for Klamath salmon; Fish ladders, bigger water release ordered
Sacramento Bee - 3/30/06
By Matt Weiser, staff writer
Federal fisheries managers on Wednesday announced that fish ladders must be installed on four Klamath River dams, a move that could eventually restore more than 300 miles of salmon spawning habitat.
The news is a big win for fishermen, who this year may face a total closure of the coastal salmon fishing season because of a plunge in fish numbers on the Klamath.
"There is hundreds of miles of spawning habitat that will now become accessible to these fish," said Mike Hudson, president of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association, based in Berkeley. "It's good news for fishermen, it's good news for tribes, it's good news for consumers. It's just plain good news."
The announcement follows a federal court ruling Monday that will benefit the salmon. It ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to release more water into the river from its upstream agricultural water diversions.
The call for fish ladders comes from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the fisheries branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Their recommendation is part of a relicensing process for the Klamath dams now under way within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
That process gives the recommendation of the federal agencies the weight of a mandate, meaning FERC must now make fish ladders a requirement for relicensing.
"The federal government is proposing fish passage for the first time in 80 years," said Alex Pitts, Department of Interior spokesman. "That's a big deal."
The Klamath River was once the third-largest salmon producer on the Pacific Coast, after the Columbia and Sacramento rivers. But this year, Chinook salmon spawning on the Klamath are expected to fall below a population of 35,000 for the third year in a row.
As a result, the National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed closing the coastal salmon fishing season this year, which could jeopardize a $150 million industry. The Pacific Fisheries Management Council, an advisory group, plans to make a recommendation on the closure next week in Sacramento.
Salmon and other fish lost access to hundreds of miles of spawning habitat on the Klamath with construction of the first of the four dams in 1918.
Today, only one of the four has any sort of fish ladder, and it is the uppermost of the four, meaning that salmon have three insurmountable dams between them and that ladder.
A federal dam license lasts up to 50 years, so the current relicensing effort is a rare opportunity to change the river's fortunes.
"I'm impressed that the feds are really stepping up and taking a hard line," Craig Tucker, campaign coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, said of the call for fish ladders.
The tribe is one of three with historic fishing rights on the river.
The four small Klamath dams are owned by PacifiCorp, based in Portland, Ore., a division of Scottish Power. The company has estimated that installing fish ladders could cost $200 million, spokesman Dave Kvamme said. This compares with annual revenues from the dams of, at most, $32 million.
Tucker and others hope the company will remove the dams if that proves to be cheaper than fish ladders.
Dam removal would have the added benefit of reducing water temperatures in the river and eliminating warm-water parasites that kill fish.
The four dams together produce 151 megawatts of electricity annually, or enough for about 70,000 homes. The dams do not supply any water for farms or cities or any significant flood control benefits. #
Groups challenge fish barriers; Agencies want Iron Gate Dam to provide passage for salmon
Redding Record-Searchlight - 3/30/06
By Dylan Darling, staff writer
Federal agencies are calling for salmon to again be able to swim the entire length of the Klamath River.
The Department of the Interior, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, recommended Wednesday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) require Portland, Ore.-based PacifiCorp to figure out ways for migrating fish to get around a string of four dams on the river. The company is seeking a 50-year license to operate the dams.
"Restoring access to good-quality spawning and rearing habitat above Iron Gate Dam is a major step in rebuilding healthy salmon runs and fisheries that depend on them," said Jim Lecky, director of the NOAA Fisheries office of protected resources. "It creates the opportunity to reconnect the Klamath basin, from headwater to the ocean."
Iron Gate Dam, a 173-foot-high earthen structure about 200 miles from the river's mouth at the Pacific Ocean, was built in 1962 and is the farthest downstream. It blocks salmon, steelhead and lamprey from 300 miles of spawning habitat. Migrating fish have been cut off from the upper reaches of the Klamath since the river's first dam, Copco I, was finished in 1918.
The recommendations call for the construction of fish ladders, concrete structures that provide a regulated cascade of water that fish can swim through to get over a dam. If not fish ladders, then other types of structures should be built to get fish past the dams, the recommendations say.
In accord with federal guidelines, PacifiCorp may disagree with the recommendations and offer alternatives, said Dave Kvamme, PacifiCorp spokesman. The company and stakeholders in the relicensing also can ask for a hearing.
When PacifiCorp officials turned in a 7,000-page relicensing application to FERC in February 2004, fish passage wasn't included in the plan.
Kvamme said fish passage wasn't included because of poor water quality and habitat conditions in the upper Klamath and its tributaries.
"We didn't call for fish passage because we don't think that any significant numbers of fish can be sustained in the upper drainage," he said. The upper Klamath has been affected by agricultural runoff and damage from livestock.
Meanwhile, fishermen groups and American Indian tribes downstream have called for not just fish passage, but for the complete removal of the dams.
"We think the real answer to this problem is going to be dam removal," said Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe.
Tucker said the recommendations by Interior and NOAA Fisheries could be a step in that direction because the cost of putting in fish passage could be more than getting rid of the dams.
Getting fish around Iron Gate alone would be a monumental project, with a two-milelong fish ladder needed to get fish over the dam, Tucker said.
Kvamme said the cost of removing dams varies greatly depending on the method used to tear them down. He also said the economic impact of not having the dams in place, which among other things would mean losing the ability to regulate the river's flow, needs to be taken into account.
Rough estimates put the cost of fish passage at $200 million. He said the company hasn't made any estimates of the cost of dam removal.
The Klamath dams provide PacifiCorp with 151 megawatts of power, or enough to supply about 70,000 customers. #
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