Sunday, March 7, 2010

Understanding the KBRA – Will the Deal that could lead to removal of four dams also bring a new dam to the Klamath River Basin?

The Promise of Environmental Water

The promise of “environmental water” is a siren call for many salmon managers. So it is not surprising that the idea of a special “environmental water account” (which biologists and other fish managers control and can order released as needed by fish) is a major component of the proposed Water Deal – the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). Promoters of the Deal – including fisheries biologists who represent the Yurok Tribe – claim that the INCREASE in the amount of Klamath River water which the Deal provides to Klamath Project Irrigators will not damage salmon and the River’s ecosystem because “water managers” will have access to new “environmental water” and will use that water to address any risks resulting from allocating more Klamath River water to irrigation interests.

One problem with this scheme is that – as KlamBlog has previously pointed out – under the KBRA the first 10,000 acre feet of “environmental water” goes not to the environment but to Klamath Project Irrigators to do with as they please. Another problem is that the decrease in the amount of water allocated to River flows would happen as soon as federal legislation authorizing the Deal passes Congress and well before dam removal. But the promised “environmental water” would only come much later and then only if Congress appropriates the money and a sufficient number of the so-called “Off Project Irrigators” (those who do not get water via the federal Klamath Project) agree to sell their water rights to the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Some scientists who have studied the KBRA fear that additional major fish kills could take place after Klamath Project Irrigators get more water and before the dams come down. This has become known as the “interim period” and what happens during that period to address the annual die-off of juvenile salmon below Iron Gate Dam and to prevent another major adult salmon kill in the River is a major reason the Hoopa Tribe, North Coast Environmental Center and several other organizations have decided that they can not support the Deal.

As the Hoopa Tribe and other Deal skeptics have pointed out, the extra water for federal irrigators is guaranteed by the KBRA (except if there is a “jeopardy” ESA finding) whereas water for fish depends on future funding and whether those hoped-for “willing sellers” actually come forward. Since opposition to the Deal is fiercest in areas targeted for purchase and retirement of water rights (“Off Project”), some observers question whether many “willing sellers” will actually be found.     

To summarize then, once again we find in the details of the proposed KBRA fine words and promises for fish while more of the real water is transferred from the Klamath River to Klamath Project irrigation interests. We are told that this is OK because there will be “new” water coming from “willing sellers”. This “environmental water” will be used to keep bad things from happening to Klamath Salmon. 

How has it worked elsewhere?

The idea sounds good but how has it played out in other Basin’s in real time?

The promise of an “environmental water account” first surfaced as part of CalFed – the state-federal partnership announced a decade or so ago to solve irrigation-fish conflicts in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valleys. Through its “Environmental Water Account” CalFed was supposed to reverse the decline of endangered fishes in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River while water exports for irrigation were maintained.

The water exports for irrigation continued but the promised “environmental water” never actually materialized. Instead the endangered fish continue to slide toward extinction and conflicts over water in the Central Valley of California have intensified. CalFed is now universally judged to have been a failure. Now the Department of Interior and Klamath Dealmakers want to use the same approach on the Klamath!

Is there reason to believe this failed strategy will be more successful here on the Klamath than it was in the Central Valley of California?  KlamBlog does not think so and we hope Congress will recognize that as well. Congress should take the Klamath in a direction that offers more real promise – and real water – to fish.

CalFed’s failure - and that failure’s implications for the future of Klamath Salmon - has either been ignored or has gone unnoticed by those tribal and fishing interests which are promoting the proposed Water Deal – the KBRA. Those promoters includes the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) which should know better since the organization has long been involved in Central Valley water and fish issues and had a first hand view of CalFed’s failure.

The new Klamath Basin dam

So why is the failed CalFed water policy being promoted for the Klamath? Consider the possibility that failure is intended. If “demand reduction” from “willing sellers” fails, the KBRA calls for construction of a new Klamath River Basin dam and reservoir.

A new dam and reservoir paid for by US Taxpayers has long been a cherished dream of Upper Klamath Basin Irrigation Interests. According to their plans, water would be pumped to a new reservoir from Upper Klamath Lake during the winter. That water would then be available for irrigation and other uses during the dry summer.

Here are portions of the final KBRA which advance the dream of Irrigation Interests for a new Klamath River Basin dam and reservoir (emphasis added):

     20.2.4. Pursuant to Section 18, the Parties shall investigate and seek to secure additional water storage in the Basin.

     18.2.5. Alternatives
                If any of the obligations in Sections 18.2.2 through 18.2.4 cannot be met or become technically infeasible or legally impossible, the Parties shall pursue amendment of this Agreement pursuant to Section 7.2 to achieve comparable storage and/or inflows into Upper Klamath Lake.

     18.3. Future Storage Opportunities
     18.3.1. Technical Investigation
                Pursuant to the Klamath Basin Water Supply Enhancement Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-498), and given sufficient appropriations identified in Appendix C-2, Reclamation shall work diligently to complete appropriate studies for off-stream storage projects. Reclamation will provide a progress report to the Parties every six months after the Effective Date. The Parties shall continue to support ongoing investigations and acquisition of additional storage.

     A. Reservations
                Consistent with Reclamation planning directives, policies and standards, and NEPA, Reclamation shall not determine the specific design, beneficiaries, etc. of such projects before completion of a NEPA decision document. Reclamation shall identify the range of alternatives identified in the Feasibility Study to enhance water management flexibility in providing for irrigation, fish and wildlife purposes, as well as the furtherance of Reclamation’s tribal trust responsibilities.

     B. Support
                Subject to Reclamation’s and OWRD’s reservations of responsibilities and obligations, the Parties shall support use of water from these facilities in accordance with this paragraph.
                i. Such water will be a resource to be employed as needed to achieve the objectives of this Agreement as related to fisheries.
                ii. When first available, such water will be used to realize the increase in diversions to the Klamath Reclamation Project as described in Section 15.1.1 and provided in Appendix E-1, if that increase has not otherwise occurred.
               iii. Water will be used to implement the provisions of Section 19.2.2.B.ii.
               iv. Water may otherwise be used in accordance with recommendations of the TAT and decisions of the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council.
               v. In addition, the TAT may recommend the use of any such water for Klamath Reclamation Project irrigation and/or Wildlife Refuges if circumstances so warrant. In that circumstance, an increase in water diversion as a result of such storage could not occur merely because additional storage has become available and there would be transparent public processes prior to any increase.

These provisions make it clear that those who most vocally condemned PacifiCorp’s Klamath dams – including the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe, PCFFA, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers and the Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC) – have now committed their organizations to supporting a new Klamath River Basin dam and reservoir. Of course, we are told that this will not be one of those old “bad” dams but rather a new sort of dam that will be good for the environment, the River and Klamath Salmon.

Is there a Good Dam in the house?

While dams that are “good” for the environment have been promised before, KlamBlog knows of no dam that is currently being used successfully to restore a river. But let’s take a closer look at the pump-storage dam operation envisioned by the KBRA. Could such a facility be used to provide the cold water needed to mitigate the salmon diseases destroying Klamath Salmon? 

The idea is to divert water from the Klamath in winter when – according to promoters – too much water is wasted because there is no place to store it. This reminds us that at one time the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) considered all water which reaches the ocean was “wasted”.  We have since learned (even the BOR!) that rivers actually need water in order to be rivers. So the focus of the Bureau - and other “water buffalos” - has shifted to high winter flows. Surely, the buffalos tell us, these flood waters must be surplus and therefore subject to appropriation!

In recent years, however, respected salmon and restoration biologists like Bill Trush and Peter Moyle have documented the fact that rivers need flood flows in order to renew themselves – including providing what salmon and other fish need. The two pioneering scientific papers pointing to the need for a wide variety of flows – including flood flows – in order to sustain dynamic river ecosystems were authored by N. Leroy Poff and his colleagues. Both (Paper 1 and Paper 2) are available on line. 

The State of Oregon has taken this science seriously. They recently passed a law requiring that high flow needs must be assessed and quantified BEFORE new winter diversions from rivers are authorized. It is unknown, however, whether this law would apply to a new dam/reservoir project in the Klamath River Basin built by the federal government.  

KlamBlog also wonders whether a new reservoir – like all present reservoirs in the Basin – would become a breeding ground for toxic algae. The new reservoir would, of course, be receiving the same water that now goes to Iron Gate - water that is super loaded with the agricultural pollution in which toxic algae love to multiply.

Will a future generation of Indigenous Klamath River Folk find it necessary to fight for removal of yet another toxic dam from the Klamath River Basin?  A stranger twist of fate would be hard to imagine. And yet that future is one distinctly possibility for the Klamath River Basin if the KBRA is locked in via federal legislation.


Glen Spain said...

Dear KlamBlog:

This is in response to your posting of March 7, 2010, titled “The Promise of Environmental Water.” Unfortunately there are several problems with your analysis with invalidate it, including:

(1) The additional 10,000 acre-feet of water that the Klamath Project irrigators MIGHT get is not from any of the FIRST of the 130,000 to 230,000 acre-feet of ADDITIONAL water that the KBRA will provide, which is termed “environmental water.” And the salmon will also get that initial slug of environmental water up front and IMMEDIATELY starting next year (not ten years into KBRA implementation as you suggest) per the water bank mechanism of KBRA Sec. 20.4.

The additional 10,000 acre-feet of “incentive” water to the Klamath Project would come under KBRA Sec. 15.1.1 only AFTER the earlier of (i) dam removal and the permanent drawdown of the reservoirs (which evaporate as much as 20,000 acre-feet of water annually); or (ii) the creation of NEW STORAGE has been developed in accordance with Sec. 18.3; or (iii) after Feb. 1, 2020, and then if and only if it is deemed by both the Technical Advisory Team and KBCC to be appropriate to divert it at that time from fish needs.

In other words, the soonest this 10,000 acre-feet of incentive water could be provided to the Klamath Project would be sometime in 2020. You have the order of events entirely backwards in your analysis.

This additional 10,000 af also an incentive for the Project irrigators to both continue to support dam removal as well as to support creating additional storage above and beyond the KBRA guarantees. The upper basin is very storage poor. Having more stored water to use for fish needs would, I think you would agree, be a good thing.

The NEW STORAGE, by the way, is clearly for storing water above and beyond the 130,000 – 230,000 acre-feet of environmental water already provided in the KBRA. That is why investigating new storage options is provided for in a separate section 18.3 titled “Future Storage Opportunities.” Project irrigators would indeed (as an incentive to help get it) have the first 10,000 acre-feet of that new storage – but the fish would get ALL THE REST.

Will “new storage” translate into a new instream dam? Highly unlikely. For one thing, there are no good places left to put such a dam. For another, it would be hotly resisted by dam removal allies under the KBRA even as a concept. Any new storage is most likely to be either additional wetlands storage through land retirements around lakebeds above and beyond those required by the KBRA, or something like the off-stream storage proposal called “Long Lake Reservoir,” a project still under study and a long way from being shown to be feasible or cost-effective. There are many other proposals as well – but NONE INVOLVE CONSTRUCTION OF IN-STREAM DAMS.

--- Glen Spain, for PCFFA

Glen Spain said...

Dear KlamBlog:

This is an additional comment in response to your posting of March 7, 2010, titled “The Promise of Environmental Water.” Because of comment posting space limits this comment must be posted separately.

The concern you raised about what happens during that “interim period” (essentially the next 10 years) between now and dam removal (and full KBRA implementation) and how that “interim period” will affect already severely damaged lower river salmon runs is, of course, shared by us all. You are spot on right that this is the critical bottleneck we have to get the fish through first.

The Klamath Settlement Agreements provides for fish protections during that “interim period” is two ways:

(1) Making sure the fish get their “environmental water” in the amount of between 130,000 and 230,000 acre-feet (totally varying annually by rainfall) UP FRONT AND FIRST, through an “interim water bank” mechanism to provide that water in-stream immediately (effectively starting 2011, given Congressional budgeting cycles), required under KBRA Sec. 20.4. It will last as long as necessary to permanently secure the “environmental water” provided the fish under other portions of the KBRA (Sec. 20.4.2) – and if there are any delays in that implementation, the burden remains on the agencies to complete those programs, not on the fish.

That “interim water bank” water support gets phased out gallon-for-gallon ONLY as the environmental water is actually phased in. If that takes more than 10 years, so be it – but the fish do not have to pay the price for any delay.

(2) There are a number of required “interim protection measures” in the companion Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), at Appendices C and D, intended to protect river water conditions and fish as best can be done short of actual dam removal. In fact, PacifiCorp is responsible, under the KHSA, for several million dollars/year of such interim mitigation measures, some of which continue for up to eight years after dam removal (2028).

Outside of the KHSA, there is no other legal mechanism that currently exists that could provide similar interim protective measures until dam removal. FERC has refused to impose such interim measures in dam relicensings, and was formally Petitioned to do so in this case by the Hoopa Valley Tribe. FERC’s rejected that petition, and similar FERC refusals have always been upheld. No Klamath Mainstem TMDLs currently exist, and it is legally unclear whether TMDLs would apply to the dams anyway since the dams are under FERC jurisdiction – this is a case PCFFA litigated and lost. And the 401 Certification process the California State Water Board was considering was for dam relicensing, not removal, and so is irrelevant.

In short, the river and its salmon are much better off during this “interim period” under the Klamath Settlement Agreements than they would be under any other dam removal scenario, even if dam removal were possible by any other route.

--- Glen Spain, for PCFFA