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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Central Valley | North Coast | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services
Hoopa Valley Tribe blasts PacifiCorp for applying chemicals to curb algae
The Tribe and river users cite last year’s studies that show killing the algae actually releases the algae toxin, microcystin, at a time of year when people are swimming, wading, rafting and fishing in the Klamath River
Hoopa Valley Tribe blasts PacifiCorp for applying chemicals to curb algae
by Dan Bacher
A plan by Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp to apply chemicals to kill toxic blue-green algae on the Klamath River for the second year in a row has ignited opposition by North Coast Indian Tribes and river users.
The plan was submitted during a dry water year when irrigators in the Klamath Basin face cutbacks while a big fall Chinook salmon run, estimated to be the third largest on record, is forecasted to arrive in the Klamath and its tributaries.
Over 2,000 people signed an on-line petition to halt the plan to kill microcystis algae in the northern river California river with hydrogen peroxide-based “GreenClean Liquid” in one week, according to Regina Chichizola, representing the Hoopa Valley Tribe. The petition is available at: http://www.change.org/petitions/warren-buffett-s-pacificorp-cancel-plans-to-use-algaecides-in-the-klamath-do-your-401-cert
The Tribe and river users cite last year’s studies that show killing the algae actually releases the algae toxin, microcystin, at a time of year when people are swimming, wading, rafting and fishing in the Klamath River. A PacificCorp spokesman disagreed, claiming that the studies showed both elevated and lower levels of microcystin.
Chichizola said PacifiCorp did not give any notification of the chemical use to river users, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and California law, nor did they initiate public comment.
The Tribe said PacifiCorp should start planning for dam removal to deal with the toxic blue-green algae.
“Studies show that PacifiCorp’s reservoirs create one of the worst toxic algae problems in the world,” stated Leonard Masten, chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. “PacifiCorp has stated they want to remove their dams for economic reasons, and has collected ratepayer money to do it, yet they are stalling dam removal by falsely saying they need legislation. They expose our communities to toxins while they stall the very Clean Water Act processes that are necessary to plan for dam removal and regulate water pollution.”
Chichizola said levels of microcystin have consistently been up to 3000 times over the World Health Organization limits for recreation contact. This has led to the entire river below the reservoirs has been declared a health hazard every late summer for the past five years.
She said that Tribal ceremonial leaders, recreational users and salmon fishermen are angry that they cannot use the river safely.
“Studies, commissioned through the Klamath dam relicensing process have proven the reservoirs create the algae problem and so far only dam removal has been suggested as an effective solution,” she stated.
PacifiCorp’s proposal is part of an experiment proposed under interim measures of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). “The KHSA is tied to Klamath water sharing legislation that died in the last Congress,” said Chichizola.
The Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes, fishing and environmental groups and the Upper Klamath Water Users Association support the KHSA and the related water sharing agreement, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), as solutions to restoring the watershed. The Hoopa Valley Tribe, Quartz Valley Indian Reservation and Resighini Rancheria and other environmental groups including Oregon Wild support dam removal, but oppose the agreements, saying they violate tribal rights while not restoring the river.
For contrasting views on the KBRA and tribal rights, see the op-ed in the Eureka Times-Standard by Dania Colegrove, Yurok/Hoopa tribal member, on May 30: http://www.times-standard.com/opinion/ci_23351704/what-are-facts-about-kbra-dam-removal-and, and the op-ed in the same publication on June 18 by Molli White, Karuk tribal member, and Frankie Joe Myer, Yurok tribal member: http://www.times-standard.com/opinion/ci_23482830/no-tribal-rights-terminated-by-kbra
PacifiCorp: Chemicals aren’t toxic
Bob Gravely, PacifiCorp spokesman, disagreed with the Hoopa Tribe's claims that the chemicals are toxic – and said the company conducted the experiment as attempt to treat algae in its reservoirs as part of the agreement.
“Last year we put 220 gallons of the hydrogen peroxide based algaecide in one our cove of one of reservoirs, Copco,” Gravely said. “This chemical is known as an environmentally safe alternative to copper-based algaecides that is used to treat public drinking water and drinking fountains. It is approved for use without restriction. I take issue with it being described as toxic chemicals.”
“This year are considering extending the test from last year,” said Gravely. “Last year we did a very limited test in one cove in one reservoir. We didn’t really learn a whole lot about whether or not the treatment was effective.”
He acknowledged the Tribe’s concerns with the treatment, but said that the company has the responsibility to take interim steps to improve water quality conditions prior to dam removal.
“Last year the Tribes, including partners in the settlement, were concerned that it coincided with religious ceremonies,” he stated. “They told us their concerns and we’re respectful of that. But we also feel we have responsibility to take steps to do something about algae as long as the dams are there.”
He emphasized, “The algae is the problem, not the treatment, and we’re trying to do something about it. Trying to learn if the treatment is effective –we’re frustrated that are people who don’t even want us to find out.”
Gravely noted that in some areas microsystins were still down and other areas up. However, he said they didn’t know if the concentrations of the toxin were up because of the algaecide or because conditions in reservoir got worse, since the treated water mixed with the rest of the reservoir water.
Karuk Tribe: real solution to algae is dam removal
The Karuk Tribe is also opposed to the treatment for several reasons, invoking a dispute resolution process.
Craig Tucker, Karuk Tribe spokesman, said, “First, adding some exotic chemical treatment is not the solution. The real solution is removing the dams.”
Tucker said another problem last year was timing – the chemicals were added during the Karuk World Renewal Ceremonies. “People are fearful of doing a ceremony when the river is treated with chemicals,” Tucker said.
However, he said the biggest problem with the treatment is that the use of chemicals is an ineffective strategy. “The pilot study showed that the treatment didn’t have an effect of the microcystis algae,” Tucker noted.
He noted that this is because the blue green algae can be found throughout the water column – and putting the hydrogen peroxide on the surface isn’t likely to be effective in killing the algae.
“We’re urging PacifiCorp to take different approach,” said Tucker. “Microcystis algae grows throughout water column, not just on the surface. Spraying it on the surface doesn’t work – and folks downstream get really nervous when you treat the river.”
Big threats to fish, birds and cows this year
While Tucker said the Karuk Tribe is concerned with PacifiCorp’s attempt to kill toxic algae, it is even more concerned about other issues that face the Klamath River this year, especially when the third largest fall salmon run on record is expect to return.
“There is going to be a big juvenile fish kill, a bird kill and a cow kill, since we see the same kind of scenario this year that we saw during 2002, the year of the fish kill,” said Tucker.
Over 68,000 adult fall run Chinook salmon perished in the lower Klamath in September 2002, due to disease spurred by low, warm water conditions. Hundreds of thousands of juvenile Chinook salmon and steelhead also perished in the spring of 2002.
Tucker said tribal biologists are very concerned about a potential fish kill involving juvenile steelhead and Chinook because of low flows and high temperatures.
He also said that because of the Klamath Tribes' adjudication to protect fish, 70,000 head of cattle in the Klamath Basin are at risk of not being fed.
Tucker also said a potential waterfowl kill looms in the Klamath Wildlife Refuge, due to lack of water.
“We think the KBRA is the solution because it has buy-in from agriculture to address these issues,” said Tucker. “If the KBRA had been in effect, we would have more water in Klamath Lake in the spring. The water would be better managed for drought than it is now.”
Hoopa Tribe plans to mobilize members
However, the Hoopa Valley Tribe contended the KBRA will actually make the Klamath flow issues worse, especially if calls by Senator Ron Wyden for off-project water allocations are realized, citing a recent statement by Mike O'Connor, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, at a recent Congressional hearing about the Klamath.
"To illustrate how the Klamath Agreements would change the impacts of the current water year, if fully authorized, the Project allocation would be 353,000 acre feet instead of the current projected 319,125 acre feet," O'Connor stated.
Chichizola emphasized that PacifiCorp "can simply make the business decision to remove the dams as they have with other dams they own" without requiring the passage of any federal legislation.
“The promise of legislation has led to an air of lawlessness on one of the Nation’s most important salmon producing rivers," she said. "It is time to implement the key measures of the dam removal proposal, and begin Clean Water Act processes needed for dam removal to proceed. Dam removal does not require legislation."
She noted that more than a hundred Klamath River Tribal members traveled to Sacramento last July to ask California Water agencies to make PacifiCorp deal with their water pollution under the Clean Water Act.
Chichizola said Tribes are hoping to bring even more people to Sacramento, and they are hopeful California will not only deny the chemical plan, but will also vote against "exempting PacifiCorp from the Clean Water Act processes for the eighth year in a row."
Judge rejects rancher motions to halt irrigation cut-offs
As Klamath River dam removal advocates continue to disagree over the KHSA and KBRA, Klamath County Circuit Judge Cameron Wogan on Friday, June 14 denied motions to temporarily stop the state of Oregon from shutting off irrigation in the upper Klamath Basin to satisfy water rights the Klamath Tribes are using to protect endangered suckers.
“A lengthy legal process completed last March had confirmed the tribes have rights dating to time immemorial on rivers flowing through former reservation lands. Some ranchers are appealing the outcome of that process,” according to the Associated Press and Klamath Falls Herald and News. (http://www.heraldandnews.com/news_flash/article_79b5c30a-d535-11e2-9bf2-001a4bcf887a.html)
Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown continues to fast-track his Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels, a controversial project that threatens the Klamath watershed also.
In April, Humboldt County and the Hoopa Valley Indian Tribe warned that the Governor's Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels is overlooking North Coast communities' long-standing water rights to the Trinity River - and "therefore overestimating water availability." (http://yubanet.com/california/Dan-Bacher-Humboldt-County-Hoopa-Valley-Tribe-Warn-Tunnels-Could-Take-Trinity-Water.php)
If built, the tunnels would lead to the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead, green sturgeon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other species, as well as threaten salmon and steelhead restoration on the Trinity River, the Klamath's largest tributary. The Trinity, whose water is diverted to the Sacramento River via a tunnel to Whiskeytown Reservoir, is the only out of basin water supply for the federal Central Valley Project.
No matter how you look at it, this is going to be a long, hot summer on the Klamath River and in the Klamath Basin.
Press release from North Coast Regional Water Quality Board, June 20, 2013:
Blue-green algae warning issued for Copco Reservoir: avoid contact, and use caution in consuming fish
Sacramento – Due to its potential health risks, federal, state, and tribal agencies are urging swimmers, boaters and recreational users to avoid contact with blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) now blooming in Copco Reservoir on the Klamath River in Northern California. Copco Reservoir has been posted with health advisories warning against human and animal contact with the water.
Cyanobacteria (Microcystis aeruginosa) cell counts in Copco Reservoir have exceeded the public health advisory threshold during recent public health monitoring. California agencies including the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) and the California Department of Public Health, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Yurok and Karuk Tribes urge residents and recreational water users of Copco Reservoir to use caution and avoid getting in the water near these blooms, especially during the upcoming summer months.
Public health monitoring for the Klamath River from Link River Dam in Oregon to the estuary in California (including Copco and Iron Gate Reservoirs) is conducted collaboratively by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, PacifiCorp, the Karuk Tribe, the Yurok Tribe, and the California North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“As blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) can pose health risks, especially to children and pets, we urge people to be careful where they swim when visiting Copco Reservoir,” said Matt St. John,Executive Officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. “We recommend that people and their pets avoid contact with the blooms, and particularly avoid swallowing or inhaling of water spray in an algal bloom area."
The algal blooms look bright green in the water, and blue-green, white or brown foam, scum or mats can float on the water and accumulate along the shore. Recreational exposure to toxic blue-green algae can cause eye irritation, allergic skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, and cold and flu-like symptoms. Liver failure, nerve damage and death have occurred in rare situations where large amounts of contaminated water were directly ingested.