The Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement calls on the secretary of the interior to make a decision on whether to remove four Klamath River dams based on a foundation of scientific findings. That is why more than 100 experts on my team, including biologists, engineers, economists, hydrologists, and others, have been developing and sharing new scientific information for the past two years.
In developing this information, my team used the universal principles of the scientific method to produce 50 new reports: literature review, hypothesis (assumption) testing, data collection and analysis, and publication of peer-reviewed, publicly available reports which are available at Klamath
Restoration.gov. Our team summarized these findings in an overview report that received a second layer of peer review from six independent experts.
We also obtained independent expert critiques of some existing
reports, convened four independent science panels to provide
points-of-view separate from those of federal scientists, and obtained
valuable input during 25 public meetings since 2010.
At these public meetings, people brought forward new information,
topics for investigation, and their scientific assumptions. This was an
open, transparent, and useful public process, and our reports are better
because of it. During our scientific analyses, we investigated many
assumptions, including those raised by the public. Some assumptions
proved to be supported by facts, while other assumptions proved to be
inaccurate or incorrect.
Dr. Paul Houser, in a series of speaking engagements last month in
the Klamath Basin, discussed many scientific assumptions that our
analyses have shown to be inaccurate or incorrect. Although space won't
allow a response to each of these inaccurate assumptions, responding to a
handful of the more important ones is warranted.
Dr. Houser suggested that the federal engineers didn't adequately
study whether Iron Gate Dam would fail during removal. The engineering
analysis of Iron Gate Dam removal was rigorous, the detailed plan fully
describes the process to safely remove this large earth-fill dam with a
clay core, and this plan underwent multiple layers of peer review.
Dr. Houser stated that "the devastation of the lower Klamath from all
that sediment coming out is between one and three feet of the river
channel, 150 feet wide, being covered with silt all the way down to the
ocean." This is incorrect. Sediment-transport modeling shows that dam
removal would release 5.4 million to 8.6 million cubic yards of
reservoir sediment. About 85 percent of this sediment is silt and clay
that would be readily transported to the ocean by winter flows during
reservoir drawdown. Very little of this sediment would remain in the
Dr. Houser stated that the "reservoir sediments are quite toxic" and
are "high in phosphorus and probably quite a few other chemicals that
have been banned for years." Findings from our study, and an independent
study in 2006, are contrary to these conclusions. An analysis of over
500 chemicals in 77 sediment cores did not show high concentrations of
toxic chemicals. Chemical concentrations are below "Critical Guidelines"
for sediment disposal and thus these reservoir sediments could be
safely released downstream if dams were removed.
Dr. Houser stated that sediment release "will devastate fisheries for
at least a year or two." Our analysis shows that a winter release of
sediment in a single year, even under a "worst-case" condition (dry
year), would result in less than 10 percent basin-wide mortality of coho
and chinook salmon, and 20 to 30 percent basin-wide mortality of
steelhead. Proposed mitigation measures would decrease this short-term
mortality. In the long term, dam removal would benefit all three fish
Dr. Houser stated "one of the things I do know is salmon were
introduced in the Klamath in about 1895, intentionally, by people,"
suggesting that coho or chinook salmon are non-native. Dr. Houser may
have been referring to a plant of coho salmon in 1895 in the Trinity
River Basin that was overseen by the U.S. Commission on Fish and
Fisheries. This was an effort to replenish over-harvested native Klamath
coho runs with stocks from nearby streams; it was not an introduction
of a nonnative species.
Dr. Houser has never spoken with me regarding these scientific
concerns, or any other scientific concerns regarding the accuracy of our
studies. As senior scientist on this project, I am committed to
bringing accurate, objective, fact-based scientific findings forward for
the secretary's decision.
If my team has erred in an analysis, missed a valuable information
source, or failed to investigate an important assumption or concern, my
science team stands ready, as always, to evaluate new ideas and
information sources, and to correct any errors. This decision is too
important to leave any stone unturned.
Dennis Lynch has been a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological
Survey for 32 years, including studies in the Klamath Basin for 17
years. He is the lead federal scientist overseeing the science and
engineering process for the secretary of the interior on Klamath River