Sunday, March 1, 2009

Will a new Klamath Clean-Up Plan Restore Klamath Water Quality?

What would you think if someone told you that PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams are NOT the most important issue for those who want to restore the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon? You’d say that someone is either misinformed or crazy right? That’s because we’ve all been barraged by press coverage of Dam and Water Deals crafted behind closed doors while other Klamath issues and happenings have for the most part been ignored. But the plain truth is that pollution - the lack of water quality conducive to recovery of Klamath Salmon and restoration of the Klamath River - is the #1 factor preventing recovery and restoration. The dams are part of the problem but they are not the largest polluter.

Right now the North Coast Water Quality Control Board (NCWQCB) – the entity charged with assuring water quality on the Northcoast and Klamath – has begun the process of developing a Water Quality Restoration Plan for the Klamath River. This is a critical part of what is called the TMDL Process. The Restoration Plan is where the rubber of science hits the road of enforcement. A good plan will provide for the corrective actions and enforcement mechanisms needed to (finally) clean up the Klamath.

The NCWQCB is currently conducting “scoping” for the Water Quality Restoration Plan including five workshops where the Water Board’s staff will present the Plan and receive written and oral comments from the public. The five workshops are as follows:
  • March 3, 12:30 PM, Yurok Tribal Office, Klamath, CA.
  • March 3, 6:30 PM, Humboldt State U., BSS Building, Room 162, Arcata, CA
  • March 4, 6 PM, Tulelake-ButteV. Fairgrounds, Floriculture Rm., Tulelake, CA.
  • March 5, 6 PM, Willow Creek School, Montague, CA.
  • March 12, 2 PM, Hearing Room, NCWQCB Office, Santa Rosa, CA
TMDL and background documents and information is available at the NCWQCB’s web site. Comments can be submitted until 5 PM on March 27th to:

The Klamath River is listed as “impaired” as required by the Clean Water Act because its waters will not support the “beneficial uses” of that water - as expressed in water quality standards established for the River. The Klamath is impaired by excessive amounts of nutrients and organic matter, high water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen concentrations, and the blue-green algae toxin microcystin. These impairments are damaging beneficial uses including salmon and other fisheries, Indigenous cultural uses and recreation.

Livestock polluted water from Johnson and Crystal Creeks enters Patterson Creek, Scott River, 3-06

The #1 source of these impairments is well established but not well known: it is the agriculture industry. Water being released from the Klamath Straits and Keno Reservoir in the Upper Basin is highly polluted and most of that pollution is agricultural waste water. The Shasta and Scott Rivers are also polluted and the main source by far is agriculture – both direct deposit of manure by livestock and agricultural waste water released to the river. The temperature, low dissolved oxygen and microcystin toxin impairments are directly related to this agricultural pollution. PacifiCorp’s dams and reservoirs – both the 4 that are proposed for removal and the one that is proposed for transfer to the Bureau of Reclamation – make the bad water quality they receive much worse. But they are NOT the main source of Klamath River’s water quality problems.

If it is going to succeed the clean-up plan adopted by the North Coast Water Board will need to learn from the failures of past water quality and fisheries restoration efforts. It must also assure that – unlike clean-up plans developed for the Shasta and Scott Rivers - it will get the job done now and not years in the future. Water pollution is the main cause for epidemic disease levels in the Klamath and certain tributaries which are wiping out salmon and steelhead production before the young fish can reach the ocean. It is unclear whether Klamath Salmon can survive if clean-up is long delayed or is ineffective.

Overgrazing and unfettered access to streams

Johnson Creek Watershed, Scott River Sub-basin, 3-06

The laws and regulations which govern the development of water pollution clean up plans require that those plans:
  • Identify where all pollution is coming from (who is responsible) and what each source of the pollution (responsible party) needs to do to clean up or eliminate the pollution it is discharging to the River or tributaries
  • Contain methods to enforce pollution limits that will be effective.
Past efforts to clean-up pollution which comes from agricultural operations have failed when they have relied upon voluntary approaches or upon agencies – like the Resource Conservation Districts – which are controlled by polluters. A 25-year effort to clean up pollution in Chesapeake Bay has been declared a failure because the voluntary approach to agricultural and other pollution has not worked. Chesapeake Bay advocates are now calling for effective enforcement.

The 20 year effort to restore Klamath Salmon under the 1986 Klamath Act which used similar “collaborative” methods also failed. Wild Klamath salmon stocks have continued to decline in spite of expenditure of $40 million and more on “restoration” projects. Too many of those projects delivered benefits to landowners and organizations but not to salmon and watersheds.

Will the “Klamath River Water Quality Restoration Plan” being developed by the North Coast Water Board again choose “voluntary” and “collaborative” approaches which have failed in the past here and across the nation?

Stay tuned……or, better yet, get involved!

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