Saturday, March 17, 2012

Underreported: PacifiCorp gets permit to kill Coho; the Klamath’s traditional “salmon defenders” are as silent as church mice

While press attention was focused on peer review of Interior’s “Overview Report” on effects of the KHSA and KBRA, one of the “promises” granted to PacifiCorp in the KHSA Dam Deal was quietly delivered in early March.

As promised in KHSA section 6.2.2, the National Marine Fisheries Service delivered a permit which will allows PacifiCorp’s Klamath River Dams to continue killing Coho Salmon with impunity in exchange for – you guessed it - money. The permit will remain in effect until PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams come down – subject to another agency review in ten years.

How long will PacifiCorp's Klamath River Dams be allowed to continue to kill salmon?

Section 6.2.2 of the KHSA states:  
        The Services shall review PacifiCorp’s application to incorporate the Interim Conservation Plan measures into an incidental take permit pursuant to ESA  Section 10 and applicable implementing regulations” and that “each Party (signing the KHSA) shall support PacifiCorp’s request for a license amendment or incidental take permit to incorporate the Interim Conservation Plan measures.”

In other words, those former defenders of Klamath Salmon who signed the KHSA are now obligated to actively support issuance of the permit allowing PacifiCorp to kill Coho. Whether the new permit is actually in the interest of or detrimental to Klamath River Salmon is now irrelevant for those organizations and tribal governments. This is just one of several ways those signing the KHSA and KBRA have been co-opted and controlled.

At the current rate of progress - and if KHSA/KBRA promoters continue to stubbornly cling to their deal fantasies instead of returning to the normal FERC process – the ten year permit review is likely to come around with PacifiCorp’s salmon-killing dams still in place.

KlamBlog’s media search revealed that only one media outlet published a news story on the permit. On February 28th the Eureka Times Standard reported on the permit;  the T-S story was apparently only picked up by the Whillits Observer.  

Authorization to “take” Coho in the “interim” – the time between when the KHSA Dam Deal was signed and when the dams come down in 2020 as specified in the KHSA – was announced by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in late February and published in the federal register on March 13th.  

Curiously, nowhere in the permit or related documents KlamBlog has reviewed is it revealed just how many Coho PacifiCorp's Klamath dams are expected to “take” (i.e kill) each year. Nevertheless, NMFS has decided the impact of that unspecified “take” is not significant. KlamBlog believes the public deserve to know the kill/take estimate and we invite NMFS and PacifiCorp to disclose on this blog just how many Coho the permit allows PacifiCorp to “take” each year.


In exchange for permission to “take” Coho, PacifiCorp will contribute $510,000 annually for “restoration” projects.  NMFS optimistically declares that this amount of funding – negotiated as part of the KHSA – will adequately mitigate the “take” caused by operation of the dams and powerhouses. Most of that funding will go to federal, state and tribal agencies – essentially buying support and silence from those who once challenged the salmon-killing practices of PacifiCorp and the politically based allocation of restoration funding.

Predictably, NMFS officials positively gushed about what PacifiCorp will do for Coho during the “interim” period. As reported in the Times-Standard:
          “Irma Lagomarsino, NOAA fisheries service supervisor for Northern California, said measures include projects that improve the complexity of the Coho habitat by adding woody debris to streams to improve their survival rates in swift-moving waters.”

The mitigation approach NMFS used to justify issuing the “take” permit violates the most basic principle of restoration. We already know that feel-good restoration projects – and the politically-based funding decisions that go hand-in-hand with them – will not stop the slide of Klamath Coho and Spring Chinook toward extinction. That approach was the main reason a 20-year multi-million dollar effort to restore Klamath Salmon which began in 1986 was an utter failure; Coho and Chinook continued to decline over that period and they have continued to decline since.

Expecting restoration projects which don’t address the key causes of decline to lead to salmon recovery is like expecting a band-aid to stop the bleeding when an arm is cut off. Based on over 30 years of fisheries restoration failures, scientists and practitioners have learned that the first and essential step to effective restoration is to end those practices which are killing fish. In issuing a “take” permit to PacifiCorp, NMFS is ignoring the best available restoration science.

The very project which NMFS supervisor Lagomarcino singled out for praise in the Times-Standard news report  – putting wood into streams – illustrates why the band-aide approach is doomed to failure. Wood (logs) placed in streams is either buried in sediments, becomes isolated on land as streambeds shift or the logs are washed out in major storms. There are words descriptive of behavior which continues practices known to be ineffective; one of those words is “dysfunctional”....another is “stupid”.

Logs placed in streams rarely remain for long; Band-aide measures make nice photos but do little to aid recovery. Real restoration requires ending those practices which degrade habitat & water quality.

Nevertheless, in its environmental assessment for the project NMFS asserts polianish optimism:
            "NMFS anticipates that projects funded through the Coho Enhancement Fund will result in long-term improved habitat conditions and access to habitat and will result in beneficial impacts to coho primarily, and indirectly Chinook and steelhead as well. Although implementation of restoration projects can result in the potential for short-term adverse effects (e.g. juvenile displacement from work sites, temporary increase in turbidity levels downstream from worksites), NMFS believes such adverse effects will be short-lived while the benefits from the projects NMFS anticipates will be long-term and far outweigh the short-term impacts associated with implementation of projects."

Hogwash! If this NMFS “belief” were true it would not be necessary to remove the dams in order to restore salmon; if NMFS managers really believed it, they would not be supporting dam removal.


NMFS, the Department of Interior, PacifiCorp and other “parties” to the KHSA continue to push their deals even as they have missed self-imposed deadlines that should have ended the fiasco. It is, however, predictable that these entities will not give up and return to the normal FERC process (which will lead to dam removal without all the other crap in the KHSA and KBRA). There are two primary reasons KHSA promoters will not turn back:
          •    As KlamBlog pointed out in prior posts, the KHSA will allow a politically well-connected corporation – PacifiCorp – to unload a non-performing asset at public expense, and
          •    The KHSA is linked to the KBRA, a deal which – as KlamBlog has also pointed out in prior posts – puts the federal agencies and especially the Bureau of Reclamation back in control of Klamath River water management and renders many former “Klamath Salmon Defenders” toothless and compliant.

Instead of abandoning the KHSA fiasco, deal promoters likely will continue to kick the can into the future. If they succeed, 2020 will arrive with the salmon killing dams still in place and with KHSA promoters still clinging to their deals with a death-like grip.

There is, however, a way out of this fiasco. The California Water Quality Control Board (SWQCB) could do what Chairman Harry Choppin promised and vote to resume the Clean Water Act mandated certification process for PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams. Resuming that process (known as “401 certification” after the applicable section of the Clean Water Act) will force a return to the normal FERC process where – because the relicensed dams would lose an estimated $20 million a year -  PacifiCorp will agree to remove the dams on the shortest possible time-line. When faced with ongoing losses, it is amazing how quickly corporations can act to end the bleeding.

Lead by the Hoopa Tribe and the Resighini Rancheria, those who oppose the KHSA Dam Deal and believe it unnecessarily delays and complicates dam removal planned to ask the SWRCB on May 1st to resume the CWA certification process. However, that public meeting has now been cancelled – an indication that backroom politics is at work.

KlamBlog suspects Governor Brown’s office is behind the cancellation. Brown appointed Chuck Bonham – formerly of Trout Unlimited – as his director of the Department of Fish & Game. While at TU Bonham was one of the main architects and promoters of the KHSA and KBRA. You can bet Bonham, PCFFA, the Yurok Tribe and other “parties" to the KHSA are lobbying hard for the SWRCB to abrogate its responsibility – and the promise of Chairman Choppin – to resume the CWA 401 process.

Unlike the back-room KHSA and KBRA deals, the deliberations of the SWRCB are public. That means – if the Board actually takes up the CWA dam certification process - those with the most at stake, i.e. the actual citizens of the Basin and not just well connected, non-local corporations, government bureaucrats and “leaders”, would have a chance to weigh in. And that is a process federal bureaucrat and other promoters of the KHSA and KBRA wish to avoid.

True to their back-room, undemocratic past, the “parties” wish to avoid public scrutiny of their special-interest deals; they want to exclude those most affected and the public in general from decisions about the Klamath’s preeminent PUBLIC resources…water and salmon.

Basin citizens and others who care about the fate of the Klamath River can, however, weigh in with the SWRCB at this link. Better still you can send e-mail to the members of the board, executive director Thomas Harder and key staff members at the following e-addresses:

Guidance on what citizens should tell the state water board is on offer from opponents of the KHSA who want a return to the FERC process. In spite of an exhaustive e-mail search, however, KlamBlog could find no comparable guidance to citizens from KHSA promoters. This is yet another indication that promoters prefer backroom dealing and are working to exclude Klamath River Basin citizens from important decisions about Public Trust Resources, including Klamath River water and salmon management.

How many citizens weigh in and whether those citizens favor continuing the KHSA Dam Deal or returning to the FERC/CWA 401 certification process, could well swing the balance one way or the other. KlamBlog will report on developments at the SWRCB as they occur.

Stay tuned…..or better yet….GET INVOLVED!

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