- Environmental Leaders Call on Administration to Fix Pacific Salmon Crisis: http://t.co/sraIYPy7 #
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The December 15 Water Talk (The KBRA and KHSA) has been rescheduled to January 19 (click for more information).
California’s largest newspapers continue to favor the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA); this time the LA Times cites the benefits of removal of the four lowest Klamath River dams.
Environmental reviews and a number of separate technical studies concluded the project would open more than 400 miles of upstream habitat for steelhead. It would also increase the annual median production of adult Chinook in the Klamath basin by 81% and the median commercial and sport ocean catch of Chinook by 46%.
Combined with restoration efforts, the removal would improve water quality, reduce fish disease and create more than 5,000 jobs, according to the reports, which estimated the cost of dam demolition at $291.6 million.
With a decision to remove (or try to retain) the dams due from the Department of Interior next March, this issue will likely continue to grab headlines.
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Opponents of Klamath River dam removal suggest that flooding is the inevitable consequence of the loss of the dams, yet — in high spring runoff conditions — the four lower Klamath River dams only provide approximately ten hours of capacity.
In fact, they’re not designed to buffer floods at all, and renovating wetlands farther up the Klamath system — as called for in the KBRA — actually adds more storage to the system than will be lost by removing the four dams.
The Oregon Mail Tribune ran an opinion piece by Bill Cross that nicely covers the issue:
The Upper Klamath reservoirs were designed to maintain a near-constant level, with no ability to store excess water in one season for release at a later time.
These dams are what engineers call “run of river” facilities, designed to release essentially the same amount of water that flows into the reservoir. They can alter flows only very briefly — on a 24-hour cycle in the case of J.C. Boyle and Copco dams — storing up the river’s flow overnight in order to release it in an oversized pulse the following day. This allows PacifiCorp to produce power when demand is highest in the middle of the day. But the dams simply cannot store enough water to reduce winter floods or release extra water in the summer.
Let’s look at the numbers. Lost Creek [ED: a reservoir on the Rogue River] can be raised and lowered by 121 feet every year, allowing it to store — or release — 315,000 acre-feet of water. That’s enough to cover an area the size of Medford in 23 feet of water. Iron Gate Reservoir, the biggest of the four PacifiCorp reservoirs, can be raised or lowered by a mere 4 feet, allowing it to store only 3,790 acre-feet — enough to cover Medford in just over three inches of water. So although the Rogue and Klamath are similar sized rivers, Lost Creek can store 80 times as much water. Iron Gate can store just over a day’s worth of the Klamath’s average flow, while Lost Creek can store a whopping 84 days’ worth of the Rogue’s average. [ED: emphasis added] That’s the difference between a single-purpose hydro dam like Iron Gate, and a multi-purpose dam like Lost Creek.
The difference in post-dam removal Klamath River flows — even in a worse case scenario — is expected to vary less than 7% from the current flows.
In this case, the facts are clear: The Klamath River dams slated for removal provide little or no flood control, and arguments about flooding risks are largely moot.
The Legal Planet blog published a short article about the Klamath Dam Removal legislation focusing on the economic benefits to Siskiyou County:
The Department of Interior, along with other state and local agencies, have released a variety of studies, including a draft EIS on the proposed dam removal. PacifiCorp would pay for the removal. The federal government would contribute an estimated $536 million for environmental restoration. According to studies to date, dam removal would increase median adult Chinook production in the Klamath basin by 81%. Removal would improve water quality, reduce fish disease and create thousands of jobs (see L.A. Times summary), including fishing and agricultural jobs.
The reaction of media sites to the Draft EIS/EIR studies has been overwhelmingly positive, though each acknowledges the difficult balancing act whenever disparate groups come together and attempt to forge an agreement.
The four lower Klamath Dams will come out because the health of the river demands it — and because it’s far cheaper to remove them than retrofit them to modern standards, after which they’d operate at a $20 million annual loss.
Opponents of Klamath River Dam removal often suggest it’s “insane” to tear down four perfectly good hydro-electric dams.
The problem is, the aging structures on the Klamath River bear little resemblance to “perfectly good” dams — especially if you value salmon, steelhead, water quality and a healthy river.
This editorial in the Redding Record-Searchlight apparently agrees:
Rep. Tom McClintock, whose district includes the upper reaches of the Klamath Basin in Modoc County, has repeatedly argued that “to tear down four perfectly good hydro-electric dams at enormous cost is insane.”
Well, yes, it would be insane if they were perfectly good dams. They are not.
It was in 2007 under that den of environmental radicals known as the George W. Bush administration that federal resource agencies, in compliance with the law, insisted that relicensing Pacific Power’s four dams on the long-troubled river would require installing fish passages. It was the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency, which is not a sub rosa branch of the Sierra Club but routinely renews dam licenses, that found that the dams would be money-losers if they complied with today’s laws. It was Pacific Power the dams’ corporate owner, which has a bigger stake than anyone in keeping them operating that decided its best bet was to let their license lapse and dismantle them.
Perfectly good dams? If they were, they’d have been relicensed long ago, as so many of PG&E’s dams are. These are dams with obvious problems.
With the privately owned Iron Gate, Copco1, Copco2 and J.C. Boyle dams set to operate at a $20 million annual loss — and that’s assuming PacifiCorp (a business) would be willing to pay upwards of $300 million more to upgrade them than remove them — the decision to take them out is based on economics and the health of a fishery.
Not the relatively meager amounts of power they generate (estimated at a paltry 62 mwh annually if relicensed).
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Legislation to remove the four lower Klamath River dams has been introduced into both houses of congress, and with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar due to make a go/no go decision on removal next March, the San Francisco Chronicle weighed in with a thoughtful editorial about what’s really at stake:
The hydropower dams aren’t due to be taken down until 2020, and a final decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar may come next March. Last month, he strongly hinted at his preference for removal by noting that preliminary studies showed that removal costs were lower than expected and 4,600 jobs would be produced by demolition and river restoration work.
Despite Washington’s chilly atmosphere for infrastructure projects, this package has powerful appeal. Fish runs must be safeguarded by federal law, and dam removal would unblock more than 60 miles of restorable habitat. The free-flowing currents are projected to boost salmon stocks by 81 percent and ocean catches by commercial and sport anglers by 46 percent. A degraded river, home to the West Coast’s third-biggest salmon population, has a chance at new life.
The cost of sticking with the four structures would be exorbitant. Relicensing the dams, which date back nearly a century, will require more than $400 million in upgrades, far more than direct demolition. That’s one reason the dam’s operator, the PacifiCorp company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway firm, favors the tear-down option.
Those opposing the restoration of the Klamath have trotted out a lot of reasons why (including some truly jaw-dropping fibs, like “Coho aren’t native” to the Klamath), but at the core of this lies a pair of very powerful economic truths:
Clearly, these dams are troubled, and they’re one of the key factors choking the life out of the Klamath’s salmon — and to a lesser extent — steelhead populations.
At the November 16, 2011 California Department of Fish & Game (DFG) Commission hearing held in Santa Barbara, the Commission will consider a Request for Emergency Rulemaking to close the Sisquoc River, Sespe Creek and North Fork Matilija Creek Watersheds to Fishing.
This request was filed by the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), a Santa Barbara-area environmental law firm in an attempt to protect Southern California steelhead. It has become the focus of much discussion and some controversy and has raised concerns about the long-term prospect of Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for Southern California steelhead and how that impacts our fishing interests.
CalTrout does not support the Request for Emergency Rulemaking for stream closures primarily because Emergency Rulemaking is not warranted for any of the listed streams. While the EDC request informally states that “fishing has increased in recent years” it provides no documentation of current, imminent, or ongoing threat of “take” of endangered steelhead in the subject watershed areas.
DFG is required to enact fishing regulations that comply with the federal ESA steelhead protections. This often results in the closure of any areas of a river or stream that can be accessed by a returning ocean-run steelhead when flows allow.
Conversely, those areas of stream that are above an impassable barrier, such as a dam, are not closed under the ESA for steelhead protection. Accordingly, in the case of the above Emergency Request, it appears that DFG staff will recommend that the Fish & Game Commission deny the Request for Emergency Rulemaking and instead will take the following non-emergency actions:
These expected DFG responses to the Emergency Request align with the Southern California steelhead ESA listing, and are therefore supported by CalTrout. [Read more…]
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