Monday, June 20, 2011

Diana Hartel: An artist/writer tackles Klamath Restoration

For the second time High Country News - whose motto is "for those who care about the West" - has done a major feature on the Klamath River. The new article is by the multi-talented - Diana Hartel - who spent her youth in the Klamath River Basin, built a career in New York City and now lives in Ashland, Oregon. Hartel provides a fresh perspective linking the current conflict over water, dams, agriculture and fisheries to local and US history, including her personal family history, as well as to the diabetes epidemic affecting Indigenous Native communities in the Klamath River Basin and nation-wide. Here are three excerpts:

      ...My relatives and their neighbors were against dam removal. Their arguments had a lot to do with settler pride of place, how we took this wild river and made it useful -- building cheap hydropower, irrigating onions, growing potatoes for Frito-Lay, watering livestock.  My family's arrival in California in 1870 was an oft-told tale that gave us our rightful place in the West. But the land had changed since then. In summer, the river was too warm, its color a neon yellow-green. In some years, stretches of the Shasta and Scott tributaries dried up...

     ...By the 1870s, when my great-grandmother came to California, the indigenous population on the Klamath had already declined by 75 percent. A century later, diabetes, once virtually unknown in the tribes, stalked the descendants of the survivors...  
     ...Much as all Westerners, Native and non-Native, might wish this history away, we have to face it together. We live in one watershed. In these times, we are easily disconnected from life rhythms millions of years old. And once disconnected, we can wreak havoc on everything around us.The diabetes epidemic that robs us of vitality, making us crave hollow substitutes for the true sweetness of life, is an indiscriminate killer. On the tribal elder's scored war staff, we need to include the uncounted lives lost to diseases in our disrupted landscape.....

The full article is well worth the read. 

And here's one of Diana's paintings:

 Klamath Cove Dawn

Hartel's hope is that the Dam and Water Deals will provide impetus to the impulse for restoration in the Klamath River Basin. That may or may not pan out. But whatever becomes of the KBRA and KHSA, she has pointed to aspects of Basin society which need attention. Hartel speaks of the connections between personal, social and ecosystem health and of the history of this Basin. Her approach suggests that - if the goal is restoration - we have a lot more work to do and not just on the River. As a river basin society we have yet to come to terms with our history and that failure continues to poisons inter-group relations - and restoration - today.

Diana Hartel is a major force behind Madrona Arts which "is an Oregon-based nonprofit dedicated to ecological awareness through art. The organization was founded in 2008 by Diana with a group of artists participating in a community multi-arts project called Inner Geography that began in 2004." A current project - Freeing the Klamath River - includes interviews with individuals active in Klamath River Basin issues as part of the Over the River Oral History Project.

The idea that the Klamath River is one of the few major rivers in America that can still be substantially restored has captured the imagination of activists, writers, politicians and artists. Each has in the past and will in the future play a role in whether the idea of restoration becomes a reality. Diana Hartel's work is proof that integrating art and activism is possible and can be an effective tool to promote ecological awareness and restoration of the natural world. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Feds come to Orleans: focus shifts to Keno Dam and Reservoir

The federal team coordinating studies, assessments and environmental reviews to inform the upcoming  Secretarial Determination on the fate of PacifiCorp’s five Klamath River dams was in Orleans on June 16th to share their findings so far and to receive input from one of the communities which will be most affected by the decision.  

The meeting came on the heels of public release of new studies and reports by panels of scientists asked to assess likely impacts of removing four of the dams and transferring a fifth PacifiCorp dam and reservoir – Keno – to the Bureau of Reclamation.  Those reports and other completed assessments have focused attention on Keno Reservoir which currently has the worst water quality found anywhere in the Klamath River Basin.

 Keno Reservoir receives polluted wastewater from over 200,000 acres of irrigated agriculture. The reservoir is so polluted that ammonia, which is directly toxic to all aquatic life, is sometimes produced

Why did the Orleans meeting focus not on the four PacifiCorp dams proposed for removal but rather on the one dam and reservoir which would stay in place? For one thing, removing the four dams but leaving Keno as is will mean that water quality in the Klamath River below will remain poor. In some months Klamath River water quality would be worse than it is now with the four other dams in place. Furthermore, a panel of independent fisheries scientists do not believe salmon restoration in the Upper Klamath River Basin will be successful unless the severe water quality problems in Keno Reservoir and Upper Klamath Lake are effectively addressed. 

If Keno Dam and Reservoir were relicensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – that is, if PacifiCorp had decided to retain ownership - the company would have had to obtain 401water quality certification from the State of Oregon. That in turn would require that PacifiCorp develop and commit to a plan to clean-up pollution in the Reservoir. If Keno is transferred to the Bureau of Reclamation, however, no 401 certification is planned. Furthermore, the KBRA Water Deal would put dealing with water quality in Keno Reservoir in the hands of the Basin’s Irrigation Elite. But it will be difficult to get the Irrigation Elite to take the action needed to clean up Keno pollution. That’s because clean-up would likely require restoring some current farmland to marshes; the Irrigation Elite has adamantly opposed marsh restoration in the area.

Klamath River advocates and organizations who are not bought into the KBRA Water Deal insist that Keno clean-up must be assured before any deal on the Klamath River dams receives legislative backing. The Resighini Rancheria – a small federal tribe located wholly within the external boundaries of the Yurok Reservation – was among those who focused on clean-up of Keno pollution at the Orleans meeting. Rancheria representatives appear to understand that failure to secure a commitment to Keno clean-up as part of a larger dam removal deal will at best delay Klamath River restoration and could frustrate salmon recovery.

Tribal, fishing and environmental interests who are “parties” to the KBRA  claim they are for Klamath River restoration; there is no reason to doubt them since restoration is where their interests lie.  With the new studies and opinions focused on problems at Keno, these “parties” should now recognize that Keno clean-up must be hard wired as part of a larger dam agreement and legislation to implement such an agreement. However, their KBRA Deal with the Irrigation Elite could prevent these “parties” from taking a strong position on Keno clean-up.

On the other hand, Keno clean-up could be the issue which reunites those traditional Klamath River partners who have been divided by the KBRA Water Deal. Will KBRA environmental, tribal and fishing “parties” follow their own interests and support hard-wired Keno clean-up or will they defer to the Irrigation Elite and support legislation which facilities removal of four PacifiCorp dams but transfers Keno to the Bureau of Reclamation without assuring that the polluted reservoir will be cleaned-up?

Stay tuned.    

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Learn about Klamath Dam Removal Studies in Orleans on June 15th

The federal government is well along the way to completing studies and assessments which will inform the Secretary of Interior's decision on whether or not removal of four PacifiCorp dams and transfer of a fifth dam to the federal government would be in the public interest.  An affirmative finding is necessary in order for the federal government to justify implementing an alternative to the normal, legally prescribed method for hydroelectric project decommissioning which is via the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission - FERC. The alternative method being considered is the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) which - among other things - would:
  • Remove PacifiCorp from liability for toxic legacies that have accumulated over 100 years of industrial power generation on the Klamath River,
  • Tie dam removal to the costly and controversial KBRA Water Deal. 
The KHSA is one path to dam removal - a path which many but not all Basin interests supporting dam removal think is the best path.  In KlamBlog's opinion, now that both the Oregon and California PUCs have found that it is in the interest of PacifiCorp's electric customers that Klamath Hydroelectric Project be decommissioned there is no turning back from dam removal. Whether the KHSA is the shortest and best path to dam removal has been debated on this Blog. It is a matter of speculation, i.e. essentially unknowable.

The Orleans meeting is an opportunity to learn about what those looking at a variety of dam removal issues are learning. Whatever the final process for dam removal turns out to be the studies and assessments being done now will inform that process. The meeting also provides an opportunity to learn about how the KBRA Water Deal is being evaluated as part of the Secretarial Determination process.