Friday, April 15, 2011

Meeting TMDL Levels in the Klamath Basin

TMDL is the technical abbreviation for pollution reduction targets established under the Clean Water Act. Below KlamBlog brings you a special report from John Sully - a member of the Rogue Group of the Sierra Club and a frequent visitor to the Klamath River Basin from his home in the Rogue River Valley. John provides his thoughts about how the newly adopted TMDL clean-up plan for the Klamath River can be implemented effectively. If you have ideas about how to clean up Klamath water quality why not comment on John's report.

from John M. Sully of Ashland, Oregon:

On September 7, 2010 the California State Water Resources Control Board adopted a set of standards for Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for the Klamath and Lost Rivers in the Klamath River drainage.  The   Action Plan for the Klamath River Total Maximum Daily Loads addresses Temperature, Dissolved Oxygen, Nutrients, and Microcystin Impairments in the Klamath River in California and Lost River. The action plan was forwarded to the EPA and approved 12/28/2010 under the Clean Water Act section 303 (d) (2).

The Klamath River was declared to be water quality limited in 1996. There has been pressure to get the California State Water Resources Control Board to set TMDL limits ever since.  At least 4 species of fish are listed as rare/endangered in the Klamath Basin and River and tributaries. Recovery of these has been a mandate of the Water Resources Control Board. But declaring the river system to be water quality limited, and setting TMDL limits does not necessarily result in action being taken to clean up the river.

Recover of Four listed species of fish, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act section 303 (d) (2) could be a strong motive for taking action.  Transferring Keno Dam to BOR from PacifiCorp may lead to an environmental review of the proposed Transfer Agreement and/or those of its provisions which are pertinent to Klamath River clean-up under the Basin Plan.  It should happen as the impoundment behind Keno Dam has the accumulation of all pollution of human activity in the Klamath Basin and for which BOR will be responsible after the transfer!

Keno Reservoir receives all Upper Basin Ag and Municipal waste. 
Keno has the worst water quality in the Basin and many opportunities to restore wetlands

Complying with the required TMDL limits does not have to be expensive or complicated!!!  It can be as simple as utilizing existing or constructed wetlands as “cleaners”.  Wetland functions include water storage, ability to remove pollutants by wetland vegetation (obligate wetland and facultative wetland, and facultative plants) growing in the wetlands.  Wetlands will also reduce sedimentation downstream of the wetlands, reduce temperature of the incoming water through shading by the wetland vegetation, reduce erosion by slowing the flow of water, and increase habitat for wetland dependant species, i.e. waterfowl, various invertebrates, amphibians, fishes, etc.

Klamath Basin is an ideal place to establish constructed wetlands, or utilize existing wetlands to meet the TMDL standards.  One example of a treatment wetland would be the Klamath Straits Drain area.  The area is large, flat, and before the inception of the BOR project was a wetland.  Flooding the area would have the effect of reestablishing a wetland.  Modifications probably would have to be made to the “plumbing” to reestablish flow to the river.   But it is a feasible project.

Other possibilities include creation of wetland swales around areas where cattle are grazing, cultivated fields, etc.  Constructed wetlands could be located adjacent to sewage treatment plants for secondary sewage treatment,  as has been done very successfully at the Arcata marshes and in Indio, California.  Dr. Robert Gearhart of Humboldt State University may be available as a consultant in designing treatment wetlands for TMDL clean up.

The use of treatment swales has been successfully used along the I-5 freeway and the coastal route in Orange County in District 7 (Los Angeles) to protect marshes from highway nonpoint source pollution that threatened Marina Del Rey and Anaheim Bay (Bolsa Chica NWR).   The use of constructed/treatment wetlands is a well recognized science by EPA and the National Research Council (see Wetlands Characteristics and Boundaries and Compensating for Wetland Losses Under the Clean Water Act, published by the National Research Council and publications of EPA).

If BOR is sincerely interested in “restoring” the Klamath Basin and doing so in an economical and ecological manner, the use of treatment wetlands/constructed wetlands for reducing pollution from point sources and non point sources would be a way to ease the conflict with the environmental community.


1 comment:

Glen Spain said...

Dear KlamBlog-

John Sully’s re-post on using “constructed treatment wetlands” to clean up water quality in the upper basin was very thoughtful. But he and KlamBlog readers should know that, under Interim Measure 11 of KHSA Appendix D, PacifiCorp is devoting considerable money on feasibility studies of just that kind of measure. Serious study of constructed treatment wetlands will be part of the Detailed Plan for dam removal.

PacifiCorp has already committed to fund up to $5.4 million toward agency approved water quality mitigation measures, mostly at or around Keno (potentially including constructed treatment wetlands projects), and up to $560,000/yr. toward mitigation measure operations costs until 2020 and dam removal. PacifiCorp could also provide some of its lands for that purpose.

A PacifiCorp January 2009 report, “Preliminary Feasibility Assessment of Constructed Treatment Wetlands in the Vicinity of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project” is available at:

This study shows this is no panacea, nor can it be achieved cheaply or solely on PacifiCorp lands. Outside land acquisition is a major cost. Funding ongoing operations after PacifiCorp is gone is also a question.

Fortunately, with dam removal quite a bit of the needed lands will be re-emerging from below current reservoirs as public lands. One downside of such treatment wetlands, however, is that spreading water out greatly increases evaporation, yielding less downriver water for fish as the tradeoff for better water quality.

All these factors are now being considered, and further public efforts to push these treatment wetlands studies forward would be much appreciated.

– Glen Spain, for PCFFA (