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Tribes and Fishermen Speak Out Against Clean Water Permit for Klamath Dams
People from the Klamath Basin and throughout California are urging the State Water Resources Control Board to not grant Warren Buffett-owned PacifiCorp a clean water permit because of the degradation of water quality resulting from the operation of company's dams on the river.
People Say No to Warren Buffett’s Dams at Klamath River Hearing in Sacramento
by Dan Bacher
Over 40 people attending a public hearing in Sacramento on October 29 delivered a resounding message to state water officials – don’t give PacifiCorp a section 401 clean water permit needed to relicense its fish-killing dams on the Klamath River.
A diverse group including members of the Hoopa Valley, Yurok, Karuk, Quartz Valley, Winnemem Wintu and Miwok Tribes, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmental activists spoke passionately about the poor quality of the water on the river and the need to remove the dams before the staff of the California State Water Resources Control Board. Not one person spoke in favor of granting PacifiCorp a permit!
The water board held a series of scoping meetings on PacifiCorp's Klamath Hydroelectric Project (KHP) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) throughout the state in October. The hearing in Sacramento followed heavily-attended hearings in Klamath, Orleans, Yreka and Eureka.
The scoping meeting held in Sacramento on October 29 was sparsely attended by water board staff and their hired consultant from Entrix, Inc. Tam Doduc, the chair of the board, showed up to hear comments about halfway through the meeting.
Daina Colegove, a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and board member of the Klamath Riverkeeper, presented a big bottle filled with toxic blue green algae that she gathered from behind Iron Gate Dam as a “gift” to the board.
“We are unable to use the river for swimming because of the toxic algae and it’s getting worse every year,” she said. “We don’t want to see another fish kill like the one we had in 2002 (when over 68,000 salmon died).”
Richard Myers, a member of the Yurok Tribal Council, also complained about the bad condition of water quality on the Klamath.
“I live 24 miles upriver from the mouth at Weitchpec and the river smelled terrible this year in the late spring and early summer because of the algae,” said Myers. “We do our ceremonies, including the World Renewal Dance, on the river. Normally we would bathe in the river during our ceremonies, but the water quality has been so terrible during periods of the toxic algae heath advisory that we are forced to bathe in the creeks instead.”
He traced the decline in the river’s chinook salmon, lamprey eel and candlefish populations to the dramatic decline in water quality on the Klamath in recent years.
“The fish are important, but the Indian people are also important,” Myers stated. “My great aunt used to have a saying: when the Klamath River dies, the Yurok people will die also. Today we depend upon the river just as our ancestors did.”
Virginia, Richard’s daughter, emphasized that the only option for PacifiCorp is to remove their four dams. “As Indian people, we were told by our elders for generations how to build dams to harvest fish – and then take the dams down every year,” she said. “We know a lot about dams – and it’s time to bring PacifiCorp’s dams down!”
“We ate canned and smoked fish every winter and spring when I was a child – now there are not enough fish for all of the members of our tribe,” said Myers. “We come here today as the caretakers for the fish to ask that you not grant PacifiCorp a clean water permit.”
Referring to a section of the EIR that referred to preservation of cultural traditions, she emphasized, “This deserves more that a sentence, a PC bullet point.”
Gary Mulcahy, governmental liason of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and member of the Delta Vision stakeholders group, also urged the board not to grant the permit. “If this was a civil case in a court of law, the preponderance of evidence would be in favor of not granting a Clean Water Permit to PacifiCorp,” he stated.
Representatives of the Karuk Tribe, Ione Bank of Miwok Indians, the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Water for Fish and environmental groups also asked the board to deny the permit to PacifiCorp.
For the last four years, PacifiCorp's Klamath dams have created one of the worst toxic microcystis algae problems ever recorded, threatening the public health of rural residents and California's three largest Indian Tribes. The State Water Resources Control Board will begin deciding this month if relicensing these dams is consistent with the Clean Water Act.
The state is now reviewing the issue through a special EIR after successful legal action filed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for the Klamath Riverkeeper. This action has forced the US EPA to list the algal toxin Microcystin as a pollutant and forced California to regulate PacifiCorp through an EIR. This EIR will determine if the dams are issued clean water certification known as a 401 permit, or if they are removed.
“The 401 permit may be the single most crucial process within the movement to un-dam the Klamath,” according to Malena Marvin, outreach and science director for the Klamath Riverkeeper. “If California denies PacifiCorp’s clean water permit for the dams, it is likely that the only realistic solution to the algae pollution is dam removal.”
Although the hearings are over, you still have an opportunity to send written comments to the water board asking them not to grant PacifiCorp a permit. You can send a quick email message from the Klamath Riverkeeper website at http://www.klamathriver.org/401.html
“Tribal people and others are sending the message loud and clear: PacifiCorp's environmental injustice cannot continue on our river,” said Marvin. “Now it's time to send your message. Help us reach our goal of 5,000 public comments on this issue - endless pressure, endlessly applied will bring these dams down.”
Please don’t delay, since written comments on PacifiCorp's 401 Clean Water permit are due by November 17. Take 30 seconds NOW to send an email from the Klamath Riverkeeper website, then forward this article to 10 friends.
“Thanks to everyone who came to the Water Board's hearings this month, and especially to new Klamath Riverkeeper Board member Dania Rose Colegrove from Hoopa, CA,” added Marvin. “Dania put some serious miles on her rig to dip toxic algae out of Iron Gate Reservoir and deliver it to the Water Board at the dams' clean water hearings in Sacramento and Eureka. We hope you'll support the awesome work of community organizers like Dania by sending YOUR message to the Water Board!”
For background, talking points, and contact information, go to: http://www.klamathriver.org/401.html or contact Malena Marvin, outreach and science director, Klamath Riverkeeper, cell: 541-821-7260, phone/fax: 541-488-3553.