Proponents of a project that removes four dams on the Klamath River estimate that it’ll take 10 to 15 years for fish to fully colonize the upper basin once the project is completed.

Meanwhile, local fishermen say that the silt and sediment that is expected to wash downstream once the dams are gone could be good not only for the river itself but also for the Dungeness crab fishery.

The Klamath River Renewal Corporation, the nonprofit that is tasked with removing the dams, sought to give Crescent City Harbor commissioners and staff a better idea of how the project would affect the harbor.

On Thursday, however, it was crab fisherman George Bradshaw, who said he wanted to set harbor staff’s minds at ease by noting the river is currently sediment starved.

“As long as that sediment back there is not toxic, which they’ve studied, which is OK, the ocean out here and that mud hole could use more sediment,” Bradshaw said, referring to a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency stating sediment and silt trapped behind the dams is free of toxins. “It’s starved of it itself because the river’s been starved for so long and I think that all goes back to when logging quit. It was getting sediment from logging and bulldozing roads and everything that takes place. Since then, the river’s been basically sediment free.”

KRRC Community Liaison Dave Meurer and Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), gave an overview of the project and its current status. They also addressed Harbormaster Charlie Helms concerns dam removal on the Klamath River would be similar to a dam removal project on the Elwha River. Helms had stated far more sediment had affected the Dungeness Spit in the nearby town of Sequim, Washington, than was predicted would be released into the Elwha River.

However, Spain noted the dam removal project on the Elwha River was five miles from the ocean. Iron Gate Dam, the lowest of the four Klamath River dams slated for removal, is nearly 200 miles from the ocean, he said. Plus, a major tributary, the Trinity River, will dilute whatever sediment is released as a result of the project, Spain said.

“By and large we will see sediment, yes,” he said. “There will be a surge of sediment. It will have an impact on fish for a very short period of time. We time (dam removal) so it has the least impact on fish and is just before the winter flows so that it will dilute it as much as we can get it.”

According to a draft environmental impact report released from the California State Water Resources Control Board, an estimated 15.1 million cubic yards, or 14.6 million tons, of sediment will be stored in the J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1 and Iron Gate reservoirs by 2020.

About 5-9 million cubic yards is expected to travel downstream after the dams are removed, Meurer said. Much of that material will settle on the bank and re-vegetate it, he said. An estimated 85 percent consists of fine silt and clay, while 15 percent is sand and gravel that will travel downstream more slowly. Meurer pointed to a bolded section of the draft EIR, noting the material is much less than the river transports to the ocean during a wet year and greater than is transported during a dry year.

During an average year, the Klamath River transports about 4 million cubic yards of sediment to the Pacific Ocean, Spain said.

“The other thing is below the Iron Gate Dam where the sediments start, there’s little fine gravel there. That’s where a lot of it will infill, and that’s to the benefit of the fish,” Spain said. “That helps restore what’s basically a sediment-starved river system.”

Spain said very little to no sediment is expected to wind up in the harbor.

Meanwhile, Meurer said the sediment has been analyzed to determine if it contains any toxic material.

“The EPA letter I’ll send you says there’s really nothing there that violates human health safety standards, drinking water standards,” he said. “It’s not the nasty stuff that people expected.”

The target date for dam removal is January 2021, according to Meurer. This came at the advice of local tribes, who indicated the river is used to big flood events. Meurer said KRRC will replicate a high water event by simultaneously drawing down the reservoirs during a two month period, allowing sediment and fine silt to wash through the system. Once the reservoirs are at river level, deconstruction of the dams will begin, he said.

The project is expected to generate a “few hundred” direct jobs that will pay prevailing wages, according to Meurer. It will also create about 1,000 indirect jobs through support industries as well as a huge infusion of cash in Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Meurer noted that KRRC already has funding secured for the project, which will cost about $398 million. California appropriated $250 million and another $200 million is being paid through a surcharge coming from Pacific Power customers. This year is the last year Pacific Power customers will see that surcharge on their bills, Meurer said.

“The long term implication is fish coming back, and that is a game changer for those counties and it’s a game changer for you,” he said. “Dam removal allows for increased oxygen levels and free-flowing river means better water quality. We’re going to be giving salmon and steelhead and other species access to 400-plus stream miles of historic habitat both river and the tribs. That’s huge. They’ve had that cut off for a lot of years it’s not a surprise that numbers have been crashing.”

The water resources control board’s draft EIR will be available for public review and comment until Feb. 26. The report and more information about the project is available at www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/water_quality_cert/lower_klamath_ferc14803.shtml.

A copy of the draft EIR is also available at the Del Norte County Library, 190 Price Mall in Crescent City. A public meeting will be held in Arcata at 5 p.m. Feb. 6 at the D Street Neighborhood Center, 1301 D St., Arcata.

A meeting in Sacramento 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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