Though Crescent City Harbor District approved a letter supporting dam removal on the Klamath River last week, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors was unconvinced the project wouldn’t result in excessive silt and sediment at the port.

County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a letter to the state Water Resources Control Board in response to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation’s request for a Clean Water Act section 401 certification in connection with the removal of the J.C. Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2 and Iron Gate dams.

The county’s letter says the Water Resources Control Board’s draft environmental impact report did not assess the impact of sedimentation on the nearshore ocean environment. It called on the KRRC to make assurances such impacts would be directly mitigated.

Supervisor Chris Howard also asked the letter call for mitigation for impacts the project would cause to the recreational and commercial salmon fisheries within the Klamath River.

“I’d like to see those pieces addressed because there will be, we know, at least one year of a complete shutdown of the recreational fishery and likely a commercial piece offshore,” Howard said. “We don’t know long-term how that will stretch.”

Howard’s comment about the shutdown of the recreational fishery for “at least one year,” came in response to a statement made by River Design Group Engineer Scott Wright, one of several technical consultants working with KRRC on the dam removal project.

Wright, who has been part of 25 dam removals on the Pacific Northwest, said once KRRC begins draining the reservoirs behind the dams, the fine silt could result in turbid conditions on the Klamath River during the months of January, February, March and April 2021. The turbid conditions will likely impact fishing on the main stem of the Klamath River, he said, but he expects fishing to be fine on the watershed’s tributaries including the Trinity River.

“That first winter, January, February and March, there will be no fishing likely on the Klamath main stem. It’s going to be pretty bad, the turbidity,” Wright said. “I don’t think you’ll see any fishing happening during that time period. I don’t think there’s something you can do to make that up. It’s going to be basically a lost couple months on the river for fishing.”

River Design Group was originally hired by the Bureau of Reclamation in 2009 in connection with dam removal on the Klamath River, Wright said. He mentioned a previous environmental impact study completed by the bureau in 2012 and said the dams had been studied well before that study was published.

KRRC is planning to begin the dam removal project in January 2021. The nonprofit corporation has applied for a Clean Water Act Section 401 permit from the California Water Resources Control Board for the removal of the Copco No. 1 and No. 2 and Iron Gate dams.

The Water Resources Control Board is in the process of gathering public comment on a draft environmental impact report in response to KRRC’s request. The board is holding a public hearing 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Friday in Sacramento that will be live-streamed at www.calepa.ca.gov/broadcast/. The board is accepting public comment through Feb. 26.

According to the board’s draft environmental impact report, an estimated 15.1 million cubic yards of sediment will be stored behind the J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1 and Iron Gate reservoirs by 2020.

About 5-9 million cubic yards of sediment is expected to travel downstream after the dams are removed, according to the DEIR. An estimated 85 percent consists of fine silt and clay, while 15 percent is sand and gravel that will travel downstream more slowly, according to the DEIR. The report also notes 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, Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, told Crescent City Harbor commissioners and commercial fishermen on Jan. 24.

At that meeting, Spain said very little to no sediment is expected to wind up in the harbor.

On Tuesday, Wright said most of the sand that drifts along the coastline comes from rivers, but in the Crescent City area much of the sand is coming from the north. He cited a study by scientist Gary Griggs that stated sand from the Klamath River would have no impact to the Crescent City Harbor. Wright said he would make that study available to Del Norte County supervisors.

In response to a question from Supervisor Bob Berkowitz, who asked what KRRC’s responsibility would be for the removal of any silt that would potentially impact the harbor, Matt Cox, the nonprofit’s director of communications, promised to work with stakeholders and affected parties.

Cox said KRRC would ask county supervisors and other local officials to let them know what their anticipated needs might be.

“If there were to be some effect on the harbor that may require mitigation measures, we would appreciate a picture of what you think that might be,” Cox said.

In its letter to the Water Resources Control Board, the county cited a 1968 study, “Coastal Geomorphology of the Smith River Plain,” which found the littoral drift south of Crescent City transports sediment northwestward and contributes to “a continued seaward growth of sand south of the breakwater at the mouth of the Harbor.”

“Sediment accumulating at the entrance of the Harbor travels inward and requires regular dredging to maintain a safe navigation depth of recreational and commercial vessels in the federal channels and inner boat basins,” the letter states. “Fine sediment accumulation is particularly problematic because it is typically unsuitable for use as beach replenishment and thus more difficult to dispose of.”

The county’s letter also states Crescent City Harbor District’s dredge materials holding site is at capacity and a replacement has not been established and has been complicated by permitting hurdles between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Coastal Commission.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen said it was his understanding all the finer materials that affect the harbor come from the Klamath River. The materials coming from the Smith River are much heavier, he said.

“Who’s going to take care of impacts if those do happen and is there some sort of contingency fund that you have to take care of that in the long term?” Hemmingsen asked. “I know there are going to be short-term impacts and I don’t know exactly what those are as far as the crab fishery and the coon-stripe shrimp fisheries.”

Hemmingsen disputed the finding in the Water Board’s draft EIR stating predicting the amount of material moving downstream following dam removal would be less than what’s transported during a wet year and more than transported during a dry year. Hemmingsen pointed to a dam that was removed on Morrison Creek, stating sediment was still plugging up culverts “I don’t know how many years later.”

“After 90 years of having dams up there, there’s a massive amount of material, 15 million cubic yards that is going to come down that river,” he said. “Most of it is going to end up in the ocean. I still have some concerns. I want to know what the short-term and long-term impacts (will be) to the local economy. Are those going to be mitigated? Are you going to do something about that?”

Howard echoed Hemmingsen’s concerns, stating even though the draft EIR addresses the amount of material that could move downriver as a result of dam removal, in the winter ocean currents drive the “brown plume” directly to the harbor.

“No disrespect to Dr. Griggs and his input and geologic reports on sediment flows, but based on my 25 years of being here and flying out of this community, I don’t know how that assumption could have been made,” Howard said. “I know the impacts to the fishery as Supervisor Hemmingsen (said) whether that’s the coon-striped prawn or our crab fishery and that mud hole. It’s out there. It’s a lot of material to move down.”

Despite Howard’s concerns there could be negative impacts to the crab fishery as a result of sediment from dam removal, local fishermen George Bradshaw and Rick Shepherd say the project could be beneficial to Dungeness crab.

At the harbor’s Jan. 24 meeting with KRRC representatives, Bradshaw, who sought to allay harbor staff’s concerns, echoed Spain’s statements 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. “It’s starved of 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.”

Shepherd, who was elected to the harbor commission in November, said mud hole, an area near the mouth of the Klamath River, is starved of sediment, the clams and other organisms crab feed on aren’t there.

“The crab is still there, they’re feeding somewhere else,” Shepherd said. “I won’t say it’s best for the crab fishery, but it’ll bring the bottom back to what it used to be. There’s less mud, there’s less sediment, we don’t see the feed in it.”

At the Crescent City Harbor District’s Feb. 5 meeting, Shepherd, along with James Ramsey and Carol White approved a letter of support for the dam removal effort to the Water Resources Control Board. Brian Stone and Wes White voted against the letter of support with Wes White saying he was still concerned about liability to the harbor as a result of sediment and silt.

Funding for the KRRC dam removal effort is coming from a PacifiCorp utility surcharge totalling $200 million, according to Cox. PacifiCorp currently owns the dams.

California also contributed an additional $250 million from a Proposition 1 water bond approved by voters in 2014.

The overall project is expected to cost $398 million, according to KRRC’s 2,300 page Definite Plan for decommissioning the dams. That plan is currently being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

In addition to being granted the 401 Water Certification from the Water Resources Control Board, a key hurdle for KRRC is petitioning FERC to the hydroelectric license for the dams from PacifiCorp to KRRC. FERC will also be asked to approve a request from KRRC to surrender the hydroelectric license at which point the dams would cease to operate as a hydroelectric project, KRRC CEO Mark Bransom told the Triplicate last week. A copy of the plan is available at KRRC’s website, www.klamathrenewal.org/definite-plan.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com

22517154