[env-trinity] Times Standard: Federal government recommends removing dams from Klamath River in southern Oregon and Northern California
tstokely at att.net
Fri Apr 5 07:48:06 PDT 2013
Federal government recommends removing dams from Klamath River in southern Oregon and Northern California: Hoopa Tribe says it will sue over proposed flows this year
Grant Scott-Goforth/The Times-Standard and Jeff Barnard/The Associated Press Eureka Times Standard
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The federal government on Thursday recommended that all four aging hydroelectric dams be removed from the Klamath River in southern Oregon and Northern California to help struggling wild salmon runs, and that nearly $1 billion should be spent on environmental restoration.
However, whether that will happen remains in doubt. Legislation authorizing the secretary of Interior to approve dam removal and appropriating $800 million for restoration work have not gained any traction in Congress.
Meanwhile, conservation groups announced their intention to challenge the Bureau of Reclamation's plan to release water from the Klamath dams, which they say is insufficient to support coho salmon runs.
Karuk Tribe Klamath Coordinator Craig Tucker praised the report, saying that taking down dams was “not only good for fish but safe, affordable, feasible and in the economic interest for power customers.”
The hydroelectric dams are owned by PacifiCorp and produce power for 70,000 customers.
As one of his last acts before leaving office, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called on Congress to take action, saying that removing the dams and implementing the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement are important components of finding a solution to the basin's water problems.
”Once again, the communities of the Klamath Basin are facing a potentially difficult water year under a status quo that everyone agrees is broken,” Salazar said in a statement. “We need a comprehensive solution addressing all the needs of the Klamath Basin, including fisheries, agriculture, (wildlife) refuges, and power.”
The battle to remove the dams is far from over. Newly elected conservatives on the Klamath County Board of Commissioners have voted to get out of the restoration agreement and House Republicans have not allowed the dam-removal measures to go to a vote.
But at least one lawmaker -- North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman, D-Santa Rafael -- has expressed support for dam removal.
”Every previous study from a wide range of sources informed this report and the scientific and common sense conclusion is clear: We should tear down these dams,” Huffman said in a statement.
”We are encouraged by the signals we are getting from Washington,” Josh Saxon of the Salmon River Restoration Council said in a release. “During (newly appointed secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell's) confirmation hearings, (Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden's) first question focused on the Klamath. This tells us that both Congress and the administration are aware of the need to solve the Klamath crisis.”
Battles over how to share scarce water between farms and protected fish reached a head in 2001, when drought forced the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to shut off water to a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border in an effort to provide water for endangered sucker fish in the project's main reservoir. Salmon in the Klamath River were also threatened. The next year, the Bush administration restored irrigation, but tens of thousands of adult salmon died when they returned to a river with low and warm water levels.
In 2010, tribes, farmers, salmon fishermen and conservation groups ended a century of fighting over water by signing the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which called for the sharing of water in dry years and the removal of four dams to open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat shut off for a century. PacifiCorp agreed to the removal rather than pay millions of dollars for fish ladders and other improvements.
”This final report confirms that dam removal is both feasible and cheaper than any other option,” Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, a salmon fishing group, said in a statement. “None of the many scare stories spread by dam removal opponents were found to have any factual basis.”
Jeff Mitchell, a member of the Klamath Tribes tribal council, said their community was “headed for a real train wreck” if action wasn't taken quickly.
The Hoopa Tribe, along with several other conservationists, has opposed the restoration agreement, saying they would prefer to seek dam removal by other means.
”The Hoopa Valley Tribe fully supports Klamath dam removal. We do not support dam removal being tied to water sharing legislation that lowers flows for salmon and sacrifices tribal water rights,” Hoopa Valley Tribe spokeswoman Regina Chichizola wrote in a statement. “The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement needs to be de-coupled from dam removal.”
In a opinion piece published in the Times-Standard last month, Hoopa Tribal Councilwoman Hayley Hutt said water rights granted in the agreement would trump tribal rights.
”Couple this with the fact that the KBRA allows flows that are much lower then current (Endangered Species Act) mandated flows, and that the KBRA lasts for 50 years, and it is apparent the agreement gives up too much,” Hutt wrote.
As the debate over the restoration agreement continues, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and conservation groups WaterWatch and Oregon Wild filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the government, saying it had improperly imposed lower guaranteed flows of water for salmon on the Klamath River.
”The bureau has begun implementing a water management regime that cuts water to threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River, and to fish and wildlife elsewhere in the Klamath Basin, before the completion of a legally-required scientific and environmental review,” the groups said in a release.
This year is expected to be strong for returning salmon and commercial, sport and tribal fishing.
”The bureau is repeating the same mistakes that ultimately led to the 2002 Klamath River fish kill and the Klamath-driven salmon fishery disaster of 2006, and we are putting the agency on notice that a repeat of those tragedies is simply not acceptable,” Oregon Wild Conservation Director Steve Pedery said in the release.
Grant Scott-Goforth can be reached at 441-0514 or gscott-goforth at times-standard.com.
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