Monday, August 11, 2008

Appeal Court Decision should kill the Klamath Water Deal - but will it?

The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) – the organization which represents the Klamath River Basin’s Irrigation Elite - recently lost its latest and likely last effort to convince the courts that PacifiCorp has an obligation to provide them with cheap power. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the lawsuit brought by KWUA against the Federal Energy Regulators Commission. The court said the Irrigation Elite lack standing. In other words, the court said that KWUA has no dog in the dam relicensing/dam removal fight.

This decision should be a death blow for the Water Deal which the Irrigation Elite has negotiated with federal and state agencies, tribes, fishing and conservation groups. That Deal would set a dangerous precedent by giving irrigators priority in the allocation of water over salmon and the needs of the Klamath River’s aquatic ecosystems and it would lock in commercial agriculture on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges for another 50 years.

The entire rational for the controversial Deal was the need to get support for dam removal from the powerful irrigators who receive subsidized water from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project. Now with the Irrigation Elite's involvement with the dams rejected by the courts and with the Elite’s Bush Administration supporters due to vacate their Washington offices in January – there is no good reason why these irrigators should be given special access to scarce water supplies, new power subsidies and other taxpayer-funded benefits. There is no good remaining justification for tribes, fishing and conservation groups to favor this one group of irrigators over all other Klamath River Basin irrigators and over the needs of salmon and Klamath River aquatic ecosystem.

So is the controversial Water Deal – the Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement – finally dead? Unfortunately, the answer is NO. Here are some of the reasons:

The Water Deal was never really only about securing the Irrigation Elite’s support for dam removal. In its 500 plus pages one also finds, for example, subsidies for tribes and establishment of a “restoration program” which lacks standards and accountability. Tribes, irrigators and watershed councils could access the restoration program for projects which range from fish studies and well designed habitat rehabilitation to out and out boondoggles which restore nothing but the bank accounts of those who implement them. Tribes and watershed councils are dependent on restoration funding to maintain staffing levels.

But beyond reasons of direct self-interest, certain national and regional conservation groups support the Agreement because – if it is adopted and funded - they can tell their funders that they have “solved” the Klamath Conundrum. These organizations can then move on to greener (as in money) pastures, i.e. new grants and donations to “save” yet more river basins.

For these reasons look for a renewed push to legislate the Water Deal when the separate Dam Removal Deal is announced. With that push we will see renewed pressure on the Hoopa Tribe, Northcoast Environmental Center and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens' Associations which have indicated that they can not support the Deal in its current form. Because Northcoast congressman Mike Thompson is key to securing the billion odd dollars which the Deal would distribute to irrigators, tribes and others, these Thompson constituents are the key to selling the Water Deal. If they continue to withhold support, it is unlikely that Mike Thompson will sponsor legislation to provide the desired federal subsidies.

Those local and regional groups will need strong leaders who enjoy the support and encouragement of their members if they are going to resist the pressure that will be brought to bear on them. But the rewards for continuing to resist the flawed Water Deal will likely be great. If those calling for major changes in the Deal hang tough, they will be well positioned to secure a better deal with irrigation interests – one that does not favor one group of irrigators over others, does not encourage wasteful use of energy, does not give the Irrigation Elite control of water fish will need and does not sacrifice the Klamath’s world class wildlife refuges.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Consultants lend little support to Siskiyou Supervisors’ claims about the impacts of dam removal

On July 9th KlamBlog published a post titled “Is Marcia Armstrong blowing hot air?” in which we took the Siskiyou County Supervisor to task for claims she has been making concerning the environmental impacts of removing four Klamath River dams. Here’s an excerpt from that post:

Supervisor Armstrong’s claims of significant risk to humans and fisheries if the dams are removed appear to have no meaningful relationship to the facts….. In her commentary, Armstrong states that her conclusions are based on evaluation of the data by a “consultant”. But Siskiyou County has apparently not released this evaluation nor can it be found on their website. KlamBlog challenges Supervisor Armstrong and Siskiyou County to release their consultants report. We also invite Armstrong to address on KlamBlog the substance of the NMFS memos.

In response Marcia provided the transcript of testimony given by John Lambie – a Siskiyou County consultant - at a public meeting before the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors at the Miner’s Inn Convention Center on March 25, 2008. Mr. Lambie is from a group identified as “E-Pur, LLC.”

Below you will find the entire text of the transcript Supervisor Armstrong provided. By our reading, the consultant did not provide much support for the claims the Siskiyou Supervisors continue to make concerning likely impacts of dam removal. On the contrary his answers to leading questions appeared in the main to contradict the supervisors’ concerns.

The main point made by the consultants appears to be that more study is needed if the dams are going to come out – a point on which both proponents and opponents of dam removal agree. The consultants also promoted the idea of a cost-benefit analysis – a technique for comparing alternative courses of action. The consulting company specializes in cost-benefit analysis.

On the claim that dioxin in the sediments will kill fish, the consultant said some studies – but not others - suggest that there could be harm to some of the “benthic” (i.e. bottom dwelling) organisms in the river that are part of the food chain on which fish depend. However, he did not confirm that direct harm to fish is likely. The consultant also point out that dioxin residues of the kind found in the sediment are quite common in the rural west due mostly to the pervasive use by the timber industry of wood treatment chemicals that leak dioxins into the environment. While those wood treatment chemicals are now banned, the dioxin residues persist – especially in sediments.

While, the consultants did not support most of the claims being made by the Siskiyou County Supervisors, this has not prevented these supervisors from continuing to make those claims. In fact, in a recent trip to Washington DC, Siskiyou Supervisors Kobseff and Cook reportedly claimed that dam removal would have a negative impact on “irrigation”. Since neither the dams nor the section of the Klamath River in which they are located provide irrigation water, it is difficult to understand the rational for this assertion. KlamBlog would be eager to provide Supervisors Kobseff and Cook with a forum here to explain the basis for this claim.

Here is the full text of the consultants’ remarks as provided by Supervisor Armstrong:

[This is from the transcript of testimony given at a public meeting before the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors at the Miner’s Inn Convention Center on March 25, 2008. NOTE: Mr. Miner is a Siskiyou County consultant from Brownfield Partners. Mr. Lambie is from E-Pur, LLC.]

MR. MINER: Mr. Chairman, members of the Board of Supervisors, members of the public, it's a pleasure to be here in the midst of a hornets nest of controversy today. I don't think there was any way out of it, Frank wouldn't let me. It's nice to see you all tonight. As Frank mentioned, our firm Brownfield Partners, has worked with the County before on issues of complex environmental valuation. Frankly, our principal area of activity is redevelopment of contaminated real estate. We also do some work associated with the environmental valuation and mitigation in risk management all dealing with the way in which environmental contamination affects property. Frank and I have talked about this project on and off a couple years. During that time I told him, Frank, I have an understanding of the County now, I've done a lot of research on this very thorny issue, but I'm not a sediment guru. So Frank said, "Go find a sediment guru, Stuart." So I have brought along with me a protégé of mine that I've known over 15 years, John Lambie. John is a Pacific Northwest resident up here in Portland Oregon John did studies at MIT in sediment mechanics, and John and I have had a chance to very briefly look at some of the materials that have been put together here. I should stress this is, kidding aside, a considerably complex issue of natural and cultural resource conflicts. We're frankly, I'd like to think, fairly dispassionate with respect to this issue. I understand many of the people here are and I certainly can understand why. But our charge from the County was to in a very, very short time period look at a couple of the key documents and frankly give Frank some feedback on some of our scientific thoughts as to what we saw and what we took a look at. I can add some of my thoughts to that, but frankly I'd like to turn it over to John who can speak a little more authoritatively on sediment than I can.

MR. LAMBIE: Well, I had the good fortune of knowing Stuart when he needed a sediment expert. I got asked last Wednesday if I could look at this with him. I said yes, I could. As he said, we've known each other quite a while. I did, in fact, do my master's degree on sediment mechanics at MIT, and done a number of studies. All I can tell you at this point I've had a chance to look at the file and found there are indeed 13 sediment studies that have been done. I've had a chance to look at them preliminarily and form some opinions. As to whether they're sound science, they are not. I'll hold on passing any judgment on that and see what questions the supervisors have.

[Introduction of panelist Jim DePree, retired Natural Resource Specialist Siskiyou County]

SUPERVISOR OVERMAN: Thank you. And with that, Supervisor Armstrong, would you start off the questioning, please.

SUPERVISOR ARMSTRONG: I certainly would want to hear what Mr. Lambie has to say. What are the potential long and short term risks of dam removal and sediment removal to downstream infrastructure, private property, fish invertebrate, wildlife habitat, increased flooding. What have we got here?

MR. LAMBIE: You have a complex system. I wouldn't be prepared to answer all of those questions. The dams themselves as hydraulic measures are not terribly large features, they don't offer a lot of storage. As to flooding events, I don't see --some people have done studies as to what they do. I'm not one to pass on that. There are more expert folks than I on that particular topic. By and larger they don't provide any large flood restrictions. So the protection, therefore, to infrastructure isn't large. The actual release of the sediments from the dams seems to be a subject of some controversy. There's several of these studies that go back and forth. There's essentially two groups of studies. One is done by PacifiCorp, but a primary study done by JC Headwater how much sediment is there, what the characteristics of it are, and then additional studies done by the California State Coastal Conservancy looking at the quality of the sediment and the quantity of sediment further by taking some samples in the reservoir. Those studies brought by the conservancy then propagated studies of how should the sediment be thought of to be released behind the dams. And in summary, I think the thing to say is they really only looked at one alternative. That's a fairly rapid and sudden release of sediment from behind the dams. And it's not clear that that's an advisable approach.

As an engineer, licensed here in the West Coast, the proper thing to do is a feasibility study of what are the ways one would do that if that's the approach taken, the dam removal scenario. Taking a further step backward, nobody has actually done a feasibility study of the dams stay, dams go, some of the dams stay. Seems to me on a decision this large, that's an criteria you would look before you leap and look at the cost benefits of what these things will do, with sediments being one compound of the whole picture.

SUPERVISOR ARMSTRONG: Do they have the potential that you saw of potentially hurting anything downstream?

MR. LAMBIE: Well, river sediment mechanic around dams is fairly simple and yet complex. Rivers and systems do either one of two things. They're either an abrading system or degrading system. Abrading means it's putting sediment in and depositing it actively. Degrading means it's taking it away. Once you put a dam in, what you do is artificially stockpile the sediment behind the dam, and so the river naturally degrades the area below it. So these rivers, as I saw evidence today as we drove through on a beautiful day to see the river valley. I should add, this isn't the first project I've done on the Klamath and first time I've become aware. I've done studies for the project area as to how much water is available and where. In short, the lower river below Iron Gate has degraded its riverbed by several feet and that would be refilled once a dam was to come out and sediment was released. That would raise the base elevation of the river closer to its natural flood plain. It has a fairly broad flood plain down by 1-5. Most of the way it's relatively narrowly constrained by the bedrock that surrounds it in the area of the dams. So I don't want to go on too long. It's a complex system. It will reequilibrate once you take out the dams. I think the issue I had with the dam studies done is it really only looked at one way which you could take the reservoirs down and begin to allow the sediment to release. The normal course of action in one of these is to allow the river to reaquire that sediment and take it downstream. And it will dynamically reequilibrate in the system.

SUPERVISOR OVERMAN: Thank you. Supervisor Cook?

16 SUPERVISOR COOK: Then to reduce some of the risk as this bed would rise, would it make sense to remove that sediment and stockpile it someplace else? You would also then stop it from paving, as it were, using the fines to --that might destroy the invertebrates in the river. Would it make sense to move! that sediment or at least part of that sediment?

MR., LAMBIE: No. I did coastal studies when I was doing my sediment mechanics of long shore flow. In short, it's like moving grains of sand on the beach. It's going to do what it's going to do. You may as well work with those forces than having dump trucks which are rather small compared to this river.


SUPERVISOR OVERMAN: Thank you. Supervisor Erickson?

SUPERVISOR ERICKSON: I would like you to ….Mr. Lambie, that last statement having grains of sand do what they will, are you saying that this is probably an10 okay thing to let that sediment go?

MR. LAMBIE: Yes. It's how you let it go.

SUPERVISOR ERICKSON: It's how you let it go?

MR. LAMBIE: You can draft this thing down very quickly and --it was running big today --take a whole lot of sediment out in a hurry, or bring down slowly and let it reaquire that sediment –

SUPERVISOR ERICKSON: What would be your recommendation for that?

MR. LAMBIE: I would need to do a lot more study with some people who are good at geomorphology to work with me.

SUPERVISOR ERICKSON: You're using those words. Also, I know that you've just had less than a week to look at 13 of these studies supposedly. Would you find them, as you've looked through them, to be impartial?

MR. LAMBIE: There's some fairly limited science in some of them. They're overly simplistic, many of them. I don't want to overly generalize. The ones on river takedown --dam takedown and sediment transport rates are really based on some overly simple analyses. It's not very hard these days to do fairly sophisticated analyses of what the dynamics of it is. They look at basic settling velocity of the sediment particle is a nice place to start. The actual place it starts is the carrying velocity and contents of the stream. I don't see any analysis of that in most of these studies --in fact, in any of these studies.


SUPERVISOR OVERMAN: Supervisor Kobseff.

SUPERVISOR KOBSEFF: What else did you find that I guess might have been of interest to the rest of us that I might not be able to ask the right question to get the answer to? MR. MINER: I'll note a few things I had written down here in review myself. The 2006 damage sediment study itself says the following: First, no attempt was made to provide a final or comprehensive analysis of dam removal on the project management alternative. Second, it does not attempt to characterize in detail any adverse effects of dam removal. And third, as anybody who has read it sees appendix J, six pages of additional studies that recommends be done before a final decision is made. So that's that report and that's what it says itself directly. It's fairly easy to read.

MR. LAMBIE: I tell you one of the things that struck me is, A, I don't see a complete set of the quality of sediment information in the summary thesis of the reports. I'll have to read through 1,500 pages of lab data and assume it's there. In short, they sampled for dioxin in three sediment samples and found it in all three. And I have to say it's not a surprise because I'm working on a number of dioxin problems. It's commonly associated in this region with perchloric phenol, the old wood preservative. When you made perchloric phenol, you also made dioxin. There's many release sites up the river system. It's there, it's there at levels that some studies would suggest may be injurious to the community, the living animals in the mud at the bottom of the rivers, and some studies would say wouldn't. So it's certainly not area that deserves more thoughtful analysis before saying let's let that sediment go wild.

SUPERVISOR OVERMAN: Thank you. And the last question I have is from Scott Murphy of the Farm Bureau. And he asks, or he makes a comment, that there will be so much sediment that has to be hauled out, that it will take four million dump truck loads of material to remove it, and where is this material going to go? Anybody have any

MR. LAMBIE: That sounds like mine. I recommend against using dump trucks. The river will take it out to the ocean at a rate we can predetermine by how you take down the dams, if you take down the dams.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: What's that going to do to the fish?

MR. LAMBIE: There's a lot of science to that. The sediment studies done by the folks that like to take down the dam seem to be estimating they will release sediment at one to two percent loadings into the stream. There's certainly evidence that fish die at that level of sediment in the water, they seem to be targeted as high as ten percent sediment by weight, and that will certainly have a certain fish mortality rate. Again, how you do it will have an impact how the fish survive the process; There’s different schools of thought on that. But there's –there would be a lot of work to do. That's why I say the simple thing to do is analyze it properly before you engage in what you're going to do.

Siskiyou Supervisors' DC Trip misguided and wasteful

The Siskiyou Daily News and Mt. Shasta Herald recently reported on a trip to Washington DC by Siskiyou County Supervisors Jim Cook and Michael Kobseff. According to the report, authored by former Siskiyou Daily News publisher Dale Andreasen, the purpose of the trip was to “hold discussion with the staffs of US Senators and members of the House of Representatives” in order to “make their case for keeping the dams.”

It is difficult to imagine what this trip could possibly accomplish. Congress plays no role in whether or not the dams will be relicensed or removed. PacifiCorp owns the dams and if the company decides it is in its shareholders’ interest to remove them there is nothing that Congress can do to prevent them from doing just that. Furthermore, even if PacifiCorp decides to continue the quest to have the dams relicensed, it is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and State Water Resources Control Board which must approve the license – not Congress.

Seen in light of these facts, the Cook-Kobseff DC trip looks like little more than political posturing at the expense of Siskiyou taxpayers. Since these two supervisors constantly complain about lack of funds, one wonders how they can justify a trip which appears geared to their own political careers and not to the interests of Siskiyou County citizens.

Because PacifiCorp’s Klamath dams and powerhouses are old and obsolete – and because it is unlikely the dams can legally be certified as complying with water quality standards - KlamBlog believes PacifiCorp has decided to get rid of the dams. If we are correct, the only questions now are: Who will pay for their removal and what else will be included in dam removal financing legislation. Under these circumstances Siskiyou County supervisors should be working to get something into the deal that benefit Siskiyou County residents rather than posturing against dam removal.

What might that “something of benefit to Siskiyou County residents” be?

When Dwinnell Dam and Reservoir (aka Lake Shastina) was built in 1928 an alternative considered was supplying irrigation water to the farms and ranches around Montague with water from the Klamath River. The reasons that alternative was not pursued is shrouded in the mists of time. What we do know, however, is that Dwinnell/Lake Shastina has not provided consistent irrigation water deliveries to Montague Area farms and ranches. In many years a full irrigation season is not provided because not enough water enters the dam; this year is a good example. Dwinnell also is plagued with water quality and human health problems – including mercury contaminated fish and toxic algae.

If the Siskiyou Supervisors were on the ball they could negotiate a change in point of diversion for the Montague Water Conservation District from Dwinnell to the Klamath River as part of a dam removal deal. This would help Shasta Valley Agriculture and clear the way for removal of Dwinnell Dam – an action which could help struggling salmon runs more than removal of the Klamath Dams.

Such a move would indicate a Board of Supervisors in Siskiyou County which understands politics and knows how to play the political game in a manner that advances the interests of its citizens and key industries. The Siskiyou Supervisors, however, show no indication that they possess the political interest and skills necessary to achieve such a result. Instead Jim Cook, Michael Kobseff, Bill Overman, Marcia Armstrong and Lavada Erickson appear content to sing to the choir by posturing against dam removal.

Siskiyou voters should show these supervisors that political posturing is no substitute for real work in service to the county, its citizens and their interests. The best way to do that would be for the citizens to vote them out of office the next time they are on the ballot.