Saturday, January 8, 2011

Underreported: The conflict over PacifiCorp’s Interim Measures for fish and water quality

Perhaps the reporters and editors were on Holiday break. But whatever the reason it seems curious that – with the exception of the Siskiyou Daily News – none of the newspapers which regularly report on Klamath River Basin issues reported an important US Appeals Court decision which issued on December 28th 2010.

The decision was in a lawsuit brought by the Hoopa Tribe against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It challenged denial of the Tribe’s request that FERC impose specific interim operating conditions on PacifiCorp’s operation of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project. The Klamath Hydroelectric Project includes five PacifiCorp-owned Klamath River dams. Four of the dams (Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and J.C Boyle) are being considered for removal; a fifth (Keno Dam) is slated for transfer to the federal Bureau of Reclamation. The Hoopa lost the appeal.

 Iron Gate - one of PacifiCorp's five Klamath River Dams

Removal of four Klamath River dams and transfer of the fifth dam are being considered in connection with the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) which was signed by PacifiCorp and other parties last February. Under the Agreement, PacifiCorp will continue to operate its Klamath Hydroelectric Project at least until 2020 in a manner which is very similar to how that project has been operated in the past.

The KHSA specifies and limits the measures which PacifiCorp will implement and the specific amounts of funds the company will spend over the next ten years to mitigate dam impacts to Klamath River water quality and aquatic ecosystems – including salmon stocks. It is these Interim Measures which the Hoopa Tribe challenged.  According to the Tribe, the KHSA unnecessarily delays dam removal and its interim measures are inadequate to protect salmon and other aquatic species. The Tribe’s problems with the Dam and Water Deals are explained on its web site.

The Hoopa asked FERC to order PacifiCorp to implement ramping rates between the dams which had previously been requested by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and Cal Fish & Game to provide for Redband Trout, a native species. Ramping rates is a term of art for the increases and decreases in river flows that are controlled by a power company which manipulates them to maximize revenue from the sale of the electricity generated.

Why is this important?

Readers may well wonder why the Hoopa Tribe expended considerable resources on what appears to be a small matter – a change in ramping rates to benefit Redband Trout. The reason is economic and political: the only way PacifiCorp makes money on its Klamath operations is by holding water back during those times of the day when the price of wholesale energy is low and releasing the water to generate maximum electricity when the wholesale price is marginally higher. If FERC were to order the ramping rates changed to provide for Redband Trout, the main incentive for PacifiCorp to keep the dams for ten more years would evaporate. That could motivate PacifiCorp to allow dam decommissioning before 2020.

It is instructive that even the Siskiyou Daily News – which reported on the court decision and which has generally done the best job among newspapers reporting Klamath River issue – missed the significance of the decision.  Like many things about the Klamath, that significance has been hidden from the public. This is symptomatic of processes which have become overly secretive and from which the public has been systematically excluded.

KlamBlog believes there is too much hidden about the Klamath Dam and Water Deals....and about Klamath River water and fish management in general. We started KlamBlog to counter that culture of secrecy; maybe we also need a KlamLeaks to do here what WikiLeaks has done to expose government shenanigans generally.

Are PacifiCorp’s Interim Measures adequate?

When the Interim Measures to which PacifiCorp agreed in the KHSA are closely examined, one cannot escape the conclusion that these measures are cosmetic, politically motivated and inadequate. They include symbolic actions like dumping gravel below Iron Gate Dam when the real problem there is horrible water quality leading to epidemics of fish disease. Those supporting the KHSA are gambling that failure to adequately address what is killing most of the salmon produced in Klamath tributaries when they try to descend the River to the ocean will not totally wipe out ESA-listed Coho and Spring Chinook salmon before the dams are removed sometime after 2020.

The money PacifiCorp is spending on Coho (part of KHSA Interim Measures) is clearly intended to engender support and to cement relationships with supporters of the KHSA. One of the first projects funded did not help Coho at all; it provided a fish screen and other irrigation improvements to one of the Scott Valley’s largest irrigation districts. If PacifiCorp really wanted to help Scott River Coho it would buy up water rights and put that water back into the dewatered Scott River.

Look for the water quality projects the company funds above the dams to have the same motivation.  These funds will be directed to wetland restoration projects favored by the Klamath Tribes and the Irrigation Elite – both supporters of the KHSA.  Those may or may not be good projects but the bottom line is that it is political rather than scientific analysis which is directing how and where those funds are spent.

It is an open question whether Mother Earth and her myriad creatures can survive modern human society and its machinations. The Klamath corollary question is whether Klamath Salmon, the living Klamath River and its aquatic ecosystems can survive the political machinations of PacifiCorp, federal and state bureaucrats, the tribes, and national environmental and fishing organizations.

Stay tuned.    

No comments: