A loss for Klamath dam and water deals

 

In a defeat for those organizations and interests which support proposed Klamath River Water and Dam Deals, the California Water Resources Board has rejected a request from energy giant PacifiCorp to once again delay consideration of the impacts PacifiCorp’s five Klamath River dams have on water quality.

In a late February letter to “interested parties” the Water Board refused to delay a key part of the dam re-licensing process. The water quality certification or “401” process determines what dams must do to meet established water quality standards. Some experts believe that completion of the process for the Klamath dams would make it clear that rel-icensing the Klamath River dams requires changes that could cost over $1 billion dollars for fish ladders, water quality treatment and other environmental mandates.

The water quality process which now continues will also determine interim changes in dam, powerhouse and reservoir operations and management which PacifiCorp must implement while it and the federal governments consider whether or not to remove the dams. Under an “Agreement in Principle” (AIP) which PacifiCorp, the federal Department of Interior, Governor Schwarzenegger (California) and Governor Kulongoski (Oregon) have signed, a decision on whether or not to remove the dams would not be made until the end of 2012; if the dam removal options is chosen, removal would not begin until 2020.

The long time lag under the AIP between when a decision on dam removal would be made and the beginning of the dam removal process - as well as the fact that PacifiCorp can “opt out” of dam removal in the meantime - makes the “interim conditions” placed on annual dam operating licenses between now and 2020 critically important. The Klamath River and its salmon suffer from terrible water quality conditions – especially below the dams. Recent assessments found that 100% of the salmon in the 30 or so river miles below the Klamath dams suffer from diseases associated with poor water quality. It is now well documented that many of the salmon produced in the Klamath River and its tributaries perish as a result of these diseases before they can reach the ocean.

Those who reject the 2020 time-line for the beginning of dam removal believe that requiring PacifiCorp to take steps to mitigate poor water quality now will persuade the company to agree to remove the dams well before 2020.  Interim conditions would also be likely for a fifth PacifiCorp dam and reservoir (Keno) which the company proposes to transfer to federal ownership. Keno Reservoir receives all agricultural wastewater generated within the 200,000 plus acre Klamath Project operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. Fish kills related to poor water quality occur in this reservoir every year including die off of sucker species listed as “endangered” under the federal ESA. Measures to mitigate Keno’s poor water quality could be included in the “interim conditions” PacifiCorp is ordered to implement.    

One of the most controversial provisions of the Agreement in Principle on the Klamath River dams would link it to an even more controversial Water Deal. That proposed deal would require federal legislation to give water allocation priority over salmon to irrigators within the federal Klamath Project. Federal legislation would also be necessary to provide close to a billion dollars in new subsidies for Klamath Basin Agricultural Interests and federal tribes and to free PacifiCorp from liability not only for dam removal but for Klamath Hydro-Project legacy impacts going forward.

Under the proposed Water Deal, State of California legislation would also be required to exempt irrigators who commercially farm on Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges from provisions of the California Endangered Species Act. The C-ESA prohibits “take” of the Bald Eagle and other listed species. Scientific assessments have concluded that farming on the refuges “takes” Bald Eagles when the Bureau of Reclamation allows refuge marshes to be dried up in order to supply irrigation water for farming on the refuges.  This occurs during drought years.

A recent meeting of the California Water Resources Board, at which PacifiCorp’s request for another water quality certification delay was discussed, revealed where various Klamath “stakeholders” stand in relationship to PacifiCorp, the Agreement in Principle on the dams and on the Water Deal which has been linked to a dam removal agreement. Those standing with PacifiCorp and in support of a delay in 401 and interim water quality programs include Trout Unlimited, the Yurok Tribe and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association. These organizations are also among the most avid proponents of the proposed Water Deal. Opposition to delaying the water quality process included the Hoopa Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper and the Northcoast Environmental Center, an alliance of several environmental organizations based on California’s Northcoast.