The Klamath River – Past and …Future? (Part 2)

Larry De Ridder Rivers, Salmon Leave a Comment

Larry De Ridder
By Larry De Ridder

In our last issue we looked at some of the issues surrounding the proposed removal of four large dams on the Upper Klamath River, particularly at what an actual dam removal might look like. The government is continuing to hold meetings to gain input from various parties, such as the meeting in Eureka last month.

Though the most recent compromise proposal for dismantling the dams is temporarily dead in the water due to congress’ lack of action in 2015, the issue is far from settled. PacifiCorp has resumed work on their re-licensing application while simultaneously negotiating with the federal and state governments for permission to dismantle the dams.  The environmental review process has to a large extent been done, and addresses both options plus intermediate alternatives.  Since the issue remains active, the following is a look at the various alternatives which have been considered, and which will dominate discussions going forward.  Given the 50-year license period at stake, this could be the only opportunity in most of our lifetimes to restore the river and its historic salmon runs.  Also, bear in mind that this could be a preview of Eel River options next time the Potter Valley Project is up for review.

Alternative (1) is “No Action/No Project”. Essentially this option would have PacifiCorp continuing to manage current operations under successive annual licensing agreements while working through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) long-term re-licensing process. PacifiCorp would continue to coordinate with Reclamation to operate the Klamath Hydroelectric Project in compliance with existing NOAA and USFS opinions issued for the current Operational Plan, likely for the next 50 years. PacifiCorp would continue to fund the operation of Iron Gate Hatchery. This option forces the various managerial agencies to deal with issues independent of FERC, such as new regulations affecting the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) provision of the Clean Water Act issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ), and California North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (CNCRWQCB) for impaired water bodies. The expired long-term license didn’t address fish passage or downstream water quality. In recent years water quality requirements have become stricter and we better understand how blocking access to upper river basin spawning grounds affects salmon.  Legal pressure on those agencies which manage various aspects of the Klamath water storage and delivery system are therefore increased because it probably isn’t possible to fully comply with newer environmental laws under the “No Action” option.  The water stored upstream of Iron Gate dam would continue to experience annual toxic algae blooms.  Seasonal warm flows and a high density of fish carcasses immediately below Iron Gate dam would continue to contribute to fish diseases.  Periodic water shortages and water rights disputes would continue.

Alternative (2) is “Full Facilities Removal of Four Dams (Proposed Action)”. This option is the goal for most downstream stakeholders, but adversely affects many Upper Basin users. As described in the title, it proposes a complete removal of all four impoundments. It proposes 8 months for site preparation and a partial drawdown of Copco 1, followed by a 12-month period for full drawdown of all four lakes plus facility removal. Removal would include not only the dams, but also power generation facilities, water intake structures, canals, pipelines and buildings. The stated goal is full removal to be completed by December 31, 2020. This option would include full implementation of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the transfer of a 5th dam (Keno Dam, in Oregon) to the Department of the Interior (DOI). Subsequent activity would include substantial habitat restoration to the previously submerged portions of the watershed, fish reintroduction and management, fisheries monitoring, and actions needed to improve water flow and conditions for fish. Full attainment of the plan would result in long-term water quality improvements and implementation of the KBRA and TMDL goals. Water diversion limits on Reclamation’s Klamath Project would be enforced, and deliveries to Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake would be formalized. For parties with water rights there would be a voluntary Water Use Retirement Program in the Upper Basin intended to increase flow to Upper Klamath Lake, and various negotiated agreements to resolve outstanding water right contests in the Klamath Basin Adjudication process. And finally, this would require Federal funding of various County and Tribal economic developments to help local governments offset the adverse economic impacts that dam removal would create.  The Klamath/Trinity system is California’s second largest salmon-producing watershed, and current estimates are the salmon and steelhead runs could increase 81%.  Costs to PacifiCorp would be capped at $200 million, and thus taxpayers would have to ante up the majority of the costs.  PacifiCorp would be granted immunity from various potential lawsuits.

Alternative (3) is “Partial Facilities Removal of Four Dams”. This option would entail removing enough of all four dams to allow free-flowing river conditions and allow for fish passage over each of the remaining partial dams at all times. Under this alternative many of the ancillary structures such as buildings, tunnels and pipes would remain in place. This would require a permanent presence by PacifiCorp or a government agency to prevent unauthorized entry and negate safety hazards. The proposed schedule of completion by the end of 2020 remains the same as Alternative (2). This option is believed to be sufficient to attain the various environmental and water quality requirements.

Alternate (4) is “Fish Passage at Four Dams”. This option provides for the construction of fish ladders at each dam. Hydropower generating facilities would remain, though the power generation schedule would change substantially to comply with DOI mandatory flow conditions. Overall power output would be substantially reduced. This alternative would require major changes to both the upstream and downstream sides of the dams to ensure fish are directed away from the power generation structures and toward the ladders, and major spillway modifications to prevent fish taking a “wrong turn” going downstream. This alternative does not satisfy the conditions of the Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement (KHSA), and thus assumes the transfer of Keno Dam to DOI would not take place.  Most of the adverse conditions described for Alternative (1) would remain.  It’s estimated that PacifiCorp would lose as much as $20 million per year operating under these conditions.

Alternate (5) is “Fish Passage at J.C. Boyle and Copco 2, Remove Copco 1 and Iron Gate.” This plan proposes removal of the two largest dams and fish-ladder modifications to the remaining pair. This option would provide for fish passage, while still retaining some hydropower generation. Since the two largest dams would be gone, it’s believed the warm water toxic algae issue would be resolved. This option would still require PacifiCorp to complete the re-licensing requirements it currently faces, but would not meet KHSA requirements to restore a free-flowing river.

There are too many primary and secondary effects listed in the EIR/EIS to cover all of them here, but I’ll list a few, followed by the Alternatives with which they are associated.  You will see that some of them have the potential to seriously affect the river during the time the condition lasts.

Suspended sediments. The release of 27 million cubic yards of sediment will cause increases to suspended material in the water from the upper reaches all the way to the estuary. This is considered a short-term issue, which in context means less than two years. (Alternatives 2, 3, 5)

Dissolved oxygen. Increases in the sediment load could result in reduced dissolved oxygen throughout the river and into the near-shore marine environment. This is considered a short-term issue. (Alternatives, 2, 3, 5)

Critical and Essential Fish Habitat. Reservoir drawdown and dam removal could adversely affect what are called “Critical” and “Essential” habitats, particularly for coho salmon. Other species affected would be steelhead, pacific lamprey, green sturgeon, freshwater mussels and numerous aquatic macroinvertebrates (insects and crayfish). Proposed mitigation includes trying to protect mainstem spawning, assisting out-migrating juveniles, fall flow pulses, and manually relocating mussels. Short-term issue. (Alt 2, 3, 5)

Algae. Conversion of the reservoir areas to a free-flowing river could cause substantial increases in nutrient levels and nuisance algae levels in low-gradient channel margin areas. Short term issue. (Alt 2, 3, 5)

Air Quality. Vehicle exhaust and blown dust emissions from dam removal activities would dramatically increase numerous regulated emissions, likely beyond Siskiyou County’s legally permitted thresholds of significance. Proposed mitigation includes using only model-year 2010 or newer vehicles, and MY 2015 or newer heavy equipment for certain off-road portions of the job. Short term. (Alt 2, 3)

Other considerations include: greenhouse gas emissions/climate change, cultural and historic resources, scenic quality, Yreka water supply pipeline changes, fish collection facilities construction, recreation disruption, noise and vibration, operating and management changes to dam operations, property value changes, local government lost tourism-related revenues, and environmental justice.

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