Not all opponents of the Klamath settlements are opposed to removal of the antiquated dams on the Klamath River; they’ve just said that they prefer an alternative process.
On Tuesday, a state water agency issued a blow to supporters of that alternative process, by allowing dam-owner Pacificorp to continue to operate under its old permit.
“We're really disappointed with the outcome,” said Regina Chichizola, a spokeswoman for the Hoopa Valley Tribe. “We felt like the Water Board should act to clean up the river and this decision will result in no changes at all.”
While implementation of the agreements to remove four dams on the Klamath River and restore fish populations have stalled on many fronts, poor water quality on the river remains unremedied.
In a staff report on the topic, the state Water Resources Control Board highlighted two toxic algae blooms that occur below the dams (one is a neurotoxin and the other is a liver toxin) and the annual state health advisories that result.
To address the water conditions, several groups pressured a state water agency to move toward forcing Pacificorp to recertify the dams to meet requirements of the Clean Water Act. The board voted to put off the certification for another year in hopes that the Klamath settlements will move forward.
A suspension of the water quality certification process would have ended at the end of the July without the water board’s action.
For the past six years, water quality certification of Pacificorp’s dams by the state Water Resources Control Board has been on hold, because Pacificorp presumably is addressing the water quality issue through the dam removal agreement.
On Tuesday. more than 100 members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe rallied in front of the building where the water board met, carrying signs and shouting chants about removing the dams.
Inside, most of the familiar parties to the Klamath settlements pleaded with the water board to allow for another year of lobbying for implementation of the agreement.
Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok Tribe, which has been an active party in the Klamath settlements, told the board that it's “misinformation” to say that dam removal can happen quickly through the certification and licensing processes.
“For us, these (settlements) are the quickest and most straight-forward way to dam removal,” he said.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe, the Resighini Tribe and several other groups supporting the water board certification process cited several examples of the stand-still regarding the Klamath settlements:
The water bond that includes California’s portion for dam removal was once again delayed and will not appear on the November Ballot.
The federal legislation required to implement the Klamath settlements has not had any hearings or action in committees.
The Secretary of the Interior has not issued a decision on the project, which had been expected in March.
Greg King, president of the Siskiyou Land Conservancy and former executive director of the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC), penned a letter to the water board also urging it to pursue water quality certification.
“When NEC rejected the Klamath deals we did so because they were dangerously unworkable and could actually be used to stall dam removal. As I write this the stalling continues. Even then, but especially now, we were aware that the (Klamath Hydroelectric Project) dams will come out more quickly through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process.”
David Gensaw Sr., member of the Yurok Tribal Council, sympathized with the Hoopa Valley tribe members protesting out front, but affirmed the tribe’s support for using the Klamath settlements, saying that the certification/relicensing approach would take longer.
“If we’re able to move forward and make this work, those dams will come out sooner,” Genshaw said.
With a high amount of salmon expected to return to the Klamath this year and water levels low from a dry winter, a potential salmon fish-kill similar to 2002 was mentioned as another reason to act now to improve water quality.
The Bureau of Reclamation on Tuesday announced plans to release water stored in the Trinity Reservoir in order to prevent massive salmon disease brought on by warm, low-water conditions in the lower Klamath.
Chichizola, a spokeswoman for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, said the efforts aren’t enough.
“The Trinity now has to be completely responsible for keeping Klamath salmon alive,” she said. “We thank (the) Bureau of Reclamation for their efforts, but the Klamath Bureau of Reclamation also needs to release water.”