Despite concerns from Crescent City Harbor officials that dam removal on the Klamath River would “silt up the harbor,” a new environmental document predicts the level of sediment released as a result will be similar to what the river carries downstream during an average year.

Crescent City Harbormaster Charlie Helms said he and commissioners are worried about sediment being deposited in the marina and the potential impact it could have on the commercial fleet.

“We want to keep it wide open for the commercial fishermen to make their livelihood,” he said. “That’s what we’re worried about.”

However, a draft environmental impact report released by the California State Water Resources Control Board predicts that about 5.8 million tons, 4 million tons of which would be fine sediment and 1.8 million tons of sand and larger sediment, would be washed downstream from the Klamath River to the Pacific Ocean.

The sediment load that will be released when the reservoirs are drained and the dams removed is expected to be similar to what the river transports during an average flood year and much less than what is delivered downstream during a wet year, according to the report.

There will be an estimated 15.1 million cubic yards, or 14.6 million tons, of sediment stored in the J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1 and Iron Gate reservoirs by 2020, the draft EIR states, citing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The California State Water Resources Control Board released its draft EIR on Dec. 27 in response to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation’s request for a final Clean Water Act Section 401 permit removal of the Copco No. 1 and No. 2 and Iron Gate dams on the Klamath River. The state water board will also hold a series of public meetings on the Klamath River dam removal project next month in Yreka, Arcata, Orleans and Sacramento.

The draft EIR will be available for public review and comment until Feb. 26, according to a press release from the KRRC.

Created in 2016, the KRRC is a nonprofit organization overseeing the removal of the Copco No. 1 and No. 2 and Iron Gate dams in California and the J.C. Boyle Dam in Oregon. The organization aims to remove the dams, which block fish passage and impair water quality, by 2021.

Helms said he would address the Klamath dam removal project in his report at the Crescent City Harbor District’s meeting Monday. A representative from Pacific Power, which had owned the dams, is expected to speak to harbor commissioners about the dam removal project on Feb. 5, Helms said.

When asked about his concerns, Helms said KRRC’s estimate on the amount of sediment released by the dams don’t quite add up.

Helms pointed to the dam removal project on the Elwha River as a reason for his concerns, noting that far more sediment affected the Dungeness Spit in the nearby town of Sequim, Washington, than was predicted would be released as a result.

“It just silted everything up for a couple of years, (although) the USGS said it cleared out faster than they expected it to,” Helms said. “Our problem here is the sediment will be carried north. That’s what worries me ‘cause we got to provide for the fishermen.”

According to Michael Belchik, senior water policy analyst for the Yurok Tribe who has worked on dam removal and large-scale water issues for 23 years, the state water board’s draft EIR isn’t the first environmental document to address the sediment load expected to be released from the proposed dam removal project.

The harbor district is also not the first local government organization to voice concerns about the expected sediment load, Belchik said.

“The original hydroelectric settlement agreement had a secretarial determination where the (U.S.) Secretary of the Interior determined that dam removal was in the public interest,” Belchik said.

According to Belchik, the secretarial determination predicted that between 5 and 15 million cubic yards of sediment was trapped in the J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1 and Iron Gate reservoirs. For a river the size of the Klamath, this is very little in comparison to other large watersheds due to the existence of Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon, he said.

“Upper Klamath Lake functions as a sediment trap,” Belchik said. “They’ve done sediment modeling and most of the coarse sediment won’t get very far. Coarse sediment is the kind of stuff that could do things like clog the harbor entrance, but that’s not even expected to make the mouth of the river unless there’s a flood event during removal that carries it all the way down.”

Coarse sediment can be anything from cobblestones to sand, Belchik said.

According to Belchik, sediment will have an impact on river habitat right below the dams. There will be enough suspended sediment to cause fish mortality in the area immediately adjacent to the dams, he said, but the long-term effects include opening up miles of habitat for fish in the area.

Scientific evidence, he said, also points to the presence of the dams and the interruption of the flow of sediment in the river resulting in the proliferation of C. shasta, which causes disease in salmon.

Belchik also noted before the dams are removed, the reservoirs will be slowly drained. This will occur between January and March, which is usually when high water flows are seen on the Klamath River, he said.

“They’re trying hard to get the drawdown to happen in the middle of winter,” he said. “Ecologically that’s when the river’s best prepared to handle that.”

The water board’s draft environmental impact report and more information about the dam removal project is available at www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/water_quality_cert/lower_klamath_ferc14803.shtml.

A copy of the draft environmental impact report is available at the Del Norte County Library, 190 Price Mall in Crescent City.

The public meeting in Arcata will be held at 5 p.m. Feb. 6 at the D Street Neighborhood Center, 1301 D St., Arcata. The Sacramento meeting will be live streamed from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 15 at www.calepa.ca.gov/broadcast/.

For more information about the draft EIR, call Michelle Sieball at 916-322-8465 or email WR401Program@waterboards.ca.gov .

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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