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Mischief on the Klamath: Science, Secrecy and Salmon Restoration
by Felice Pace (unofelice [at]
Thursday Jul 21st, 2011 1:23 PM
News that an independent panel of scientists has serious reservations about prospects for successful salmon restoration to the upper Klamath River Basin once four Klamath River Dams are removed was broken by the LA Times in late June and spread like wildfire across the Basin. In this report I examine efforts by promoters of the Klamath Dam and Water Deals to get concerns about the Water Deal expressed by a panel of independent reviewing salmon scientists to recant or tone down those concerns.

The article also looks at one of the scientists' principle concerns - water quality in Keno Dam and Reservoir as a barrier to Upper Basin salmon restoration - and discloses how and why clean-up of Keno is unlikely if the Water Deal is included in legislation needed for dam removal.
The Klamath River basin straddles the border of California and Oregon. On the Klamath a review is underway to determine if removing four Klamath River dams, transferring a fifth dam to the federal government and implementing the costly and controversial water deal know as the KBRA is in the public interest and will help restore Klamath Salmon. As part of the review, an independent panel of salmon scientists was tasked with evaluating how the proposed Klamath Dam and Water Deals are likely to impact restoration of Upper Klamath-Trinity Chinook Salmon. Klamath-Trinity Chinook are currently under review for ESA listing.

News that the independent salmon scientists have serious reservations about prospects for successful salmon restoration to the upper Klamath River Basin once four Klamath River Dams are removed was broken by the LA Times in late June and spread like wildfire across the Basin.

The concerns of the scientists focused on the KBRA or Klamath Water Deal which has been politically connected to dam removal. They pointed out that large, politically brokered restoration programs have a consistent record of failure. Whether we consider Chesapeake Bay, the Everglades, the Great Lakes, the Columbia River or the Klamath River Basin, large scale restoration projects have not achieved what the politicians, advocates and bureaucrats who brokered them promised.

In 2006 a national team of scientists led by the University of Maryland’s Margaret Palmer examined thousands of restoration programs across the US and found widespread failure. The scientists pegged ineffective restoration to failure to apply restoration science resulting in projects which do not address key factors degrading rivers and lakes. The scientists also noted that less than 15% of the projects reviewed had been evaluation to determine their effectiveness. Palmer subsequently identified the specific ways in which restoration practice has failed to correctly apply restoration science.

Lack of restoration standards and accountability is a key defect of the Klamath Water Deal. Like salmon restoration under the 1986 Klamath Act before it, the KBRA would divide restoration funds based on political considerations. During the 20-year Klamath Act Restoration Program, wild Klamath-Trinity Chinook Salmon – the focus of that restoration effort – continued to decline. If that trend continues, extirpation/extinction will occur during this century. Restoration under the KBRA will be similarly ineffective; addressing several key factors limiting wild salmon production is specifically precluded by Water Deal provisions.

The independent salmon scientists focused on water quality in the Upper Basin as the main impediment to successful Chinook restoration there and throughout the Basin. In particular, they singled out a fifth PacifiCorp dam and reservoir – Keno – as a major barrier to migrating salmon. Keno has the worst water quality found anywhere in the Basin and regular fish kills occur there during summer. Under the Dam and Water Deals, however, Keno Dam and Reservoir would not be removed; instead they would be transferred from PacifiCorp to the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Soft censorship on the Klamath:

Federal and tribal bureaucrats did not like the Draft Report from the independent scientists because it criticized aspects of the KBRA Water Deal in strong terms. As they have in the past, displeased KBRA promoters worked hard to convince the independent scientists to change their report. This can be seen in comments submitted on the panel’s draft summarized in Appendix C of the final report.

Comments from the Yurok Tribe, the Pacific Federation of Fishermens’ Associations and several agency scientists closely associated with the Dam and Water Deals focus on challenging the reviewers’ statements about the Water Deal. They were only partially successful. While the language used to discuss the KBRA was toned down in the final report, it is still obvious that the scientists have severe reservations that the KBRA will deliver the benefits it promises and which its supporters regularly trumpet as if they had already been accomplished. The result is a strong but cautious final report: The scientists held their ground, expressing the same reservations in mild, sugar-coated words.

One of those commenting on the draft was not a long-time Klamath scientists or advocate but rather the individual assigned to supervise preparation of reports and studies to inform the Secretarial Determination and the accompanying EIS/EIR. The comments of Dennis Lynch appear to KlamBlog to be aimed at reducing the strength of findings that can be read as negative with regard to the KBRA. Is this sort of advocacy appropriate for someone who is supposed to oversee an impartial investigation of the costs and benefits of removing four dams, transferring Keno Dam and Reservoir to the Bureau of Reclamation and implementing the KBRA Water Deal?

In subsequent public meetings and in press statements Mr. Lynch has downplayed the Chinook Panel’s concerns about the Water Deal. We can expect further dilution of those concerns in a summary report Lynch and his team will release later this summer.

In order to determine how the independent scientists report and recommendations changed in response to the barrage of comments by KBRA promoters expressing displeasure with the independent scientists’ judgments about the KBRA, I compared the draft and final reports. Here’s one example of how the panel toned down its findings in response to the concerted effort by KBRA promoters:

Draft Report:

"The Proposed Action appears to be a major step forward in conserving target fish populations compared with decades of vigorous disagreements, obvious fish passage barriers, and continued ecological degradation. The Panel concluded that a modest increase in Chinook salmon is likely in the reach between Iron Gate Dam and Keno Dam if some of the conditions listed below are met. An increase in Chinook salmon upstream of Keno Dam is less certain because of the difficulties in satisfying all the conditions described below. The Panel has strong reservations that KBRA, even if fully implemented, will address all these conditions to the extent required to meet the goals of the program."

Final Report:

"The Proposed Action appears to be a major step forward in conserving target fish populations compared with decades of vigorous disagreements, obvious fish passage barriers, and continued ecological degradation. The Panel concluded that a substantial1 increase in Chinook salmon is possible in the reach between Iron Gate Dam and Keno Dam. An increase in Chinook salmon upstream of Keno Dam is less certain. Within the range of pertinent uncertainties, it is possible that the increase in Chinook salmon upstream of Keno Dam could be large, but the nature of the uncertainties precludes attaching a probability to the prediction by the methods and information available to the Panel. The principal uncertainties fall into four classes: the wide range of variability in salmon runs in near-pristine systems, lack of detail and specificity about KBRA, uncertainty about an institutional framework for implementing KBRA in an adaptive fashion, and outstanding ecological uncertainties in the Klamath system that appear not to have been resolved by the available studies to date."

The panel then appears to address unhappy KBRA promoters in an attempt to smooth ruffled feathers:

"Most reports and presentations received by the Panel predicted very optimistic results for Chinook salmon from the Proposed Action. The Panel is equally hopeful, but notes several factors that temper its enthusiasm. Those factors and its position, therefore, may seem pessimistic to some readers of this report. But the Panel sees its charge as listing concerns in the spirit of scientific openness and as research challenges and opportunities that if resolved successfully will increase the likelihood of success resulting from the Proposed Action."

KBRA promoters have a consistent track record but openness to fresh perspectives that don’t conform to their long-held beliefs is not part of it. Whether we consider KBRA promoters reactions to two independent reviews of Klamath Science prepared by the National Research Council, science reviews by Bill Trush and Greg Kammen or the report of the independent scientists, KBRA promoters have consistently sought to pressure, cajole and persuade dissenting scientists to recant and adopt the promoters’ sanguine views on the Water Deal. Secret meetings of Deal “parties” and federal bureaucrats continue to be used to coordinate efforts to deny and downplay concerns about the controversial and costly Water Deal. These secret meetings appear to violate federal open meeting laws; why have KBRA opponents not filed suit to block them?

The KBRA and Keno:

The independent Chinook scientists were right to question whether Keno clean-up can occur under the Water Deal. When the KBRA’s obfuscating legal language is decoded, it becomes clear that under it Keno Dam and Reservoir (along with the Lower Klamath Lake Area and the entire Lost River Basin) would be firmly under the control of the Basin’s Irrigation Elite . And since Klamath Project agriculture is the source of most Keno pollution, the Irrigation Elite have no interest in cleaning it up. In fact, their interest is to frustrate and prevent Keno clean-up as they have for many years.

Here are a few of many KBRA provisions which taken together give essential control of Keno, Lower Klamath and the Lost River Basin to the Irrigation Elite:

• Agricultural operations complying with agricultural water quality area management plans and rules administered by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and with rule amendments, if any, adopted to implement the Fisheries Program, shall not be subject to further water quality requirements under Oregon Revised Statutes chapter 468B or 568, if any, arising solely from reintroduction and the designation or presence of new fish beneficial uses.

• The Parties shall support all reasonably available alternative or additional water quality measures before considering any action for the purpose of water quality compliance that would reduce water supplies beyond the limitations provided in this Agreement.

• Following transfer of the Keno Facility from PacifiCorp pursuant to the Hydroelectric Settlement, Reclamation shall operate such facility to maintain water levels upstream of Keno Dam to provide for diversion and canal maintenance consistent with Contract No. 14-06-200-3579A executed on January 4, 1968 between Reclamation and PacifiCorp (then Copco) and historic practice and subject to Applicable Law. Klamath Reclamation Project contractors shall not bear any cost associated with the Keno Facility, including any responsibilities to landowners upstream of Keno Dam, whether cost of construction, operations, maintenance, rehabilitation, betterment, liabilities of any kind, or otherwise.

• The Parties commit to take every reasonable and legally-permissible step to avoid or minimize any adverse impact, in the form of new regulation or other legal or funding obligation that might occur to users of water or land upstream of Iron Gate Dam from introduction or reintroduction of aquatic Species to currently unoccupied habitats or areas.

• The Parties further acknowledge the potential for changes in regulatory programs and potential uncertainties as to the precise mechanisms by which the basic commitments stated herein will be achieved. If unforeseen changes in regulatory programs occur or uncertainties result as to the precise mechanisms by which the basic commitments stated herein will be achieved during the course of this Agreement the Parties agree to meet and confer in light of these commitments to determine any necessary future actions, including, but not limited to, consideration of whether narrowly tailored regulations or legislation is necessary to ensure the realization of these commitments.

• The limitations related to Klamath Reclamation Project diversions identified in Section15.3.1.A and provided in Appendix E-1, and any other applicable provisions of this Agreement, are intended in part to ensure durable and effective compliance with the Endangered Species Act or other Applicable Law related to the quantity of water for diversion, use and reuse in the Klamath Reclamation Project. Therefore, the Parties agree that they shall not seek further limitations on the quantity of water diverted, used or reused in the Klamath Reclamation Project beyond these limitations.

• A Party other than Federal and State Public Agency Parties shall not seek to enforce Applicable Law to impose further limitations on the water quantity for diversion, use, and reuse in the Klamath Reclamation Project, beyond the limitations that result from the application of Appendix E-1

While some of these provisions are couched in terms of additional responsibilities related to salmon reintroduction, and while elsewhere in the KBRA there are statements about compliance with existing laws and TMDLs, the combined effect is to provide a presumption that the Irrigation Elite will not have to make any changes not specified called for in the KBRA.

The panel of independent reviewing scientists identified Keno as a barrier to salmon migration which could frustrate efforts to restore salmon to the Upper Klamath River Basin. Any attempt to clean-up Keno will be interpreted by the Irrigation Elite as related to reintroduction (what else has changed?) and therefore subject to KBRA limitations on actions that impacts water deliveries to those irrigators. But water quality and flows are closely related. It is therefore likely that the combined effect of KBRA provisions will be to further delay - and perhaps frustrate - clean-up of Keno Reservoir.

Keno is the Key:

As the independent Chinook scientists noted, Keno Reservoir has the worst water quality in the Klamath River Basin. Sometimes Keno water gets so bad that pure ammonia – a substance directly toxic to all life - is produced. Like the four dams slated for removal, Keno is part of PacifiCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project. If that Project had been relicensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission clean water certification from California and Oregon would have been required. That certification could not have been obtained unless PacifiCorp developed and committed to clean-up Keno and its other reservoirs in order to meet water quality standards.

KBRA promoters like PCFFA’s Glen Spain point to the Oregon TMDL as a means to Keno clean-up. In agricultural areas, however, TMDL implementation in Oregon is under the direction of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. ODA relies on farm and ranch plans which – like the KBRA itself – are devoid of standards and accountability. Those like Spain who count on the State of Oregon to clean-up Keno will have a long, long wait!

If PacifiCorp is allowed to walk away from Keno Reservoir and its water quality problems, Keno clean-up will at best be delayed and may never be fully implemented. As the independent scientists pointed out, the payoff for dam removal – restoration of salmon to the Upper Klamath River Basin – might also fail. Furthermore, even if clean-up occurs, taxpayers will be saddled with the cost.

Federal legislation needed to facilitate removal of four Klamath River dams should also include provisions to assure that Keno Reservoir is cleaned up expeditiously. Like all our rivers, the Klamath is a People’s river; it is not owned and no part of the River should be controlled by PacifiCorp, the Irrigation Elite, KBRA “parties” or any other special interest. More than anything, the Klamath needs an open, democratic process for managing the People’s Klamath River and the Klamath’s public resources.

Now that the truth about flaws in the Klamath Dam and Water Deals is finally coming out, river and salmon advocates must insist that what is needed to restore the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon – including clean-up of Keno Reservoir pollution - is assured before PacifiCorp is allowed to walk away from its Klamath responsibilities. In the months ahead we will see where folks stand. Those who prioritize the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon will push to assure Keno clean-up via federal legislation needed for dam removal. Those who prioritize their own and their organizations’ power and access via the KBRA will oppose those efforts.

I’ll let Indy Media readers know where folks stand.

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