Thursday, June 25, 2009

TMDLs being established or implemented for the Klamath, Shasta, Scott and Lost Rivers should restore Klamath River water quality – but will they?

To answer this question KlamBlog describes below what TMDLs are and how they work. We then discuss TMDLs already developed for the Scott, Shasta and Lost Rivers and the TMDL being developed for the Klamath Mainstem. Those who already are familiar with TMDLs and how they work may want to skip the next section and proceed directly to “Klamath River Basin TMDLs: developed and developing” further down the page.

What TMDLs are and how they work

In water quality circles, TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load (of pollutants) – that is, the amount of a given pollutant which a water body can absorb without causing a violation of an established Water Quality Standard. In California, Water Quality Standards are set by regional water quality boards and approved by the State Water Resources Board and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Water Quality Standards are established in order to protect Beneficial Uses of water identified for each waterbody in what are known as Basin Plans. This is the manner in which the federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Clean Water Act are implemented in California.

Once a waterbody – which can be a river, stream, spring, lake, pond or ditch – is identified as polluted (aka impaired) by a regional water board, a TMDL is supposed to be prepared. A TMDL identifies the amount of pollutant each polluter (in clean water speak a discharger) is currently delivering to the waterbody and how much pollutant the water body can accommodate from all dischargers without impairing beneficial uses. This last amount is then distributed among the polluters, that is, each discharger is given a limit on how much pollution he/she/it can discharge. Discharge is then supposed to be monitored to assure that pollution limits are not being violated.

In practice it works a bit differently. In some cases the “pollutant” is not directly discharged. Take temperature for example: If the temperature of water in a stream is too high to support beneficial uses polluters must reduce the temperature of water they discharge into it. For example, an irrigator could be required to reduce the temperature of irrigation water returned (discharged) to a stream. But those with land bordering the water body may be required to plant trees to shade the water even if they are not “discharging” directly to the stream.

When it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, Congress intended that non-point pollution – that is the pollution originating not from factory pipes and other “discrete conveyances” but from activities like construction, irrigation, stormwater, farming and ranching – would be eliminated through the TMDL process. But states have been slow to prepare TMDLs and where they have been prepared TMDLs have proven inadequate for reducing pollution and restoring beneficial uses. That is because Congress failed to require EPA or the states to actually implement the TMDLs they develop.

Fortunately, California law and regulation provides that Action Plans to implement TMDLs be developed by regional boards. When adopted by a regional board and approved by the State Water Board and EPA, these Action Plans become enforceable sections of regional Water Quality Basin Plans.

Klamath River Basin TMDLs: developed and developing

TMDLs to clean-up temperature, sediment and nutrient pollution have been adopted for the Scott, Shasta, Scott, Upper Trinity and Lost Rivers; a temperature, dissolved oxygen, nutrient and Microcystin TMDL is currently being developed for the Klamath River Mainstem. In spite of these plans, however, it remains unclear whether the pollution problems which plague the Klamath, Lost, Shasta and Scott will be cleaned up anytime soon.

There are a variety of reasons why TMDLs are not yet effectively cleaning up the Klamath River and its tributaries. Prime among these reasons is the question of bureaucratic will. Are clean-up plans already developed adequate; will clean-up plans yet to be developed be adequate? And even if the clean-up plans are good will they be enforced? Are the Northcoast Regional Water Board and its employees willing to put real teeth – real enforcement – behind Klamath River Basin pollution clean-up plans? Below we look at these issues for the Klamath River and its major tributaries.

Scott River conundrum: Will polluters regulate themselves?

In the Scott River Basin, the regional board acquiesced to pressure from irrigators, timber companies, ranchers and county supervisors when they decided to rely on the local Siskiyou Resource Conservation District (SisRCD) to implement the Scott River TMDL Clean-Up Plan. But the SisRCD board is comprised of the very individual landowners whom the TMDL seeks to prevent from discharging pollutants. So-called Voluntary Enforcement – polluters regulating themselves voluntarily - is an approach which has rarely if ever worked before and likely will not work on the Scott.

In the meantime, Coho salmon continue to slide toward extinction/extirpation in a watershed in which they once thrived. The Scott River should be the stronghold for Klamath Coho Recovery but it can’t fill that role until there is effective clean-up of the temperature, sediment and nutrient pollution which plagues the Scott River and its salmon.

Cowpies and Trampled Banks at Junction of Patterson & Crystal Creeks

The Lost River Sacrifice Zone

Once hydrologically disconnected from the Klamath except for very wet years, the Lost River was diverted, channelized and dammed by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) beginning in 1905 and continuing through the 1970s. All the resulting agricultural waste water is diverted, pumped and discharged into the Klamath River. About 200,000 acres are currently irrigated via the BOR’s Klamath Project. In addition to farms, lumber mills and a golf course receive subsidized water via the Klamath Project.

Because they were forced by a lawsuit, the EPA produced a TMDL for the Lost River. But they did not produce a clean-up plan to implement the TMDL and the State of California says it has no funding to do an implementation plan. Meanwhile, in Oregon TMDL implementation for irrigated and other farm and ranch land is delegated to the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). ODA requires farmers and ranchers to develop farm and ranch plans to clean-up their discharges but the agency neither monitors nor requires compliance. This guarantees that implementation (that is, clean-up) will not be effective.

Another impediment to cleaning up the Lost River is the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) – what KlamBlog calls the Water Deal. Federal legislation proposed to implement the Water Deal would render the Lower Lost River Basin a sacrifice zone under the management control of irrigators who receive water via the BOR’s Klamath Project. By also guaranteeing commercial farming on the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges the Water Deal would prevent refuge managers from operating the refuges in such a way as to maximize the pollution reduction benefits of refuge marshes. Research has shown that the permanent marshes on Lower Klamath NWR are very effective at reducing phosphorous – a major component of Klamath River nutrient pollution.

Are they serious in the Shasta?

The Shasta River TMDL and Clean-up Plan is a lot better than those produced for the Scott and Lost Rivers. For example, the Shasta Plan calls for restoring some of the River’s once mighty flow in order to reduce excessively high water temperature. Both the North Coast Water Board and the local agricultural community appear to be serious about addressing the Shasta River’s impairments. In addition The Nature Conservancy has purchased Big Springs Ranch and is working with scientists from UC Davis to restore flows from Big Springs. These flows have been reduced drastically in recent years as new drinking water and irrigation pumps have been developed nearby in order to tap Big Springs flow before it emerges to the surface.

Many Shasta Valley irrigators appear to be serious about reducing pollution from irrigation return flows. Water that is diverted and run through pastures and fields returns to the River hot and full of oxygen-eating nutrients. But some irrigators have used government assistance to capture the waste water before it returns to the river. It is then reused or allowed to percolate to groundwater rather than being discharged into the River.

While there appears to be real progress on the Shasta (in stark contrast to the Scott and Lost Rivers) it remains to be seen whether the will to clean-up and restore the river and its beneficial uses truly exists. One big impediment is Dwinnell Reservoir (aka Lake Shastina) which some observers believe must be removed if water quality and salmon are going to make a comeback on the Shasta.

Cleaning the Klamath – Many questions remain

A TMDL and Action Plan are currently being developed by the Northcoast Regional Water Board for the Mainstem Klamath. The documents are supposed to address the serious pollution problems of the Mainstem: excessive nutrients (especially phosphorus), excessively high temperature, low dissolved oxygen, and Microcystin – a highly toxic break down product produced when certain species of blue green algae die and decompose.

A draft TMDL, draft Action Plan and supporting documentation for Klamath River clean-up have been released for public review. The documents can be accessed on line at: Public comment on the draft is due by August 17, 2009. Comments can be submitted via USPS, fax or e-mail to:

Katharine Carter
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
5550 Skylane Blvd, Suite A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
fax: 707-523-0135

The technical nature of TMDLs makes it difficult for most members of the public to effectively participate in their development. But Action Plans to implement TMDL’s should be clear, practical and effective. Three common-sense provisions are listed below which – if they are included in the Klamath TMDL Clean-Up Plan and faithfully implemented - will go a long way toward cleaning up the Klamath River and restoring Klamath Salmon. KlamBlog suggests that concerned citizens cut, paste and send these suggestions to the North Coast Water Board ( Ask the Board to include these provisions in the Action Plan for cleaning-up Klamath River water pollution:

  • Prohibit Livestock from depositing their waste directly or indirectly into rivers and streams: Doesn’t it seem strange that we strictly regulate and control human waste in order to prevent it from entering streams while cattle and other livestock are allowed to poop and pee directly into those same streams and streambeds? Since there are many more livestock living in the Klamath River Basin than there are people, this is the cause of much of the nutrient pollution which is killing the Klamath and its salmon and leading to the development of toxic Microcystin. Therefore, it makes sense to tell the Regional Water Board to prohibit livestock waste from being deposited directly into streams and streambeds. Landowners should also be required to prevent livestock they own from depositing waste in locations where it is likely to be delivered into streams and streambeds during high rainfall storm events. Let’s control livestock waste in the same way we control human waste.
  • Prohibit discharge of irrigation return flows to rivers and streams unless 70% of suspended solids have been removed. Some of our irrigator friends will tell us this is impossible or too costly. But we have examples right here in the Klamath River Basin where the practicality and low cost of measures to remove most suspended solids in agricultural waste water has been conclusively demonstrated. All that is needed in most cases is a small pond where nutrients suspended in the irrigation wastewater are allowed to settle out before the water is discharged into a river or stream.
  • Restore the normative functioning of Lower Klamath Lake in order to maximize removal of nutrients which would otherwise flow down the Klamath River. Studies conducted by the US Fish & Wildlife Service on Lower Klamath National Wildlife refuge have demonstrated that permanent and seasonal marshes can remove substantial amounts of nutrients from the water which flows through them. Historical studies indicate that Lower Klamath Lake functioned in this way before it was drained by whites, that is, Lower Klamath Lake removed some of the naturally high nutrient load in Upper Basin water before that water flowed down into the Klamath River Canyon. Restoring Lower Klamath Lake’s normative functioning would also greatly enhance the ability of the Bureau of Reclamation to divert and store water for later release to enhance Klamath River flows and for flood control.

It remains to be seen whether the Klamath River TMDL and Action Plan will turn out to be an effective tool for restoring Klamath River water quality or only another paper process that does not lead to substantive improvements in water quality. Much will depend on whether tribes, fishing and environmental groups mobilize their membership and insist on an effective Klamath River Clean-Up Plan that includes actual prohibitions - like requiring that owners keep livestock waste out of our rivers and streams and clean up irrigation water before it is discharged into waterbodies – rather than just throwing more money at polluters for projects and studies without requiring them to actually stop polluting.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Miner-Indian conflict reflects specter from the past

A conflict which in some ways has been ongoing since white miners first arrived on the Klamath River in the late 1840s, has flared up in recent years amid claims that suction dredge mining negatively impacts salmon and the aquatic ecosystems on which salmon depend. This year the conflict has grown into a virtual wildfire as proponents and opponents trade accusations and insults in the press.

The issue is so-called recreational gold mining which entails individuals and organizations exploiting provisions of an 1872 mining law in order to camp free for months along the Klamath River and its tributaries and to operate suction dredges which sweep the beds of rivers and streams seeking the elusive glint of gold. The 1872 mining law allows miners to remove minerals from federal land without paying royalties and to live on their claims while they conduct mining operations. Efforts to rewrite the law in recent years have not been successful.

Bringing support and litigation power to the Karuk Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper and the Tribe challenged approval of the practice by the California Department of Fish and Game in 2006. Fish and Game officials agreed to do an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) examining the practice and then reneged on the promise. The Tribe and Riverkeeper then asked state senator Pat Wiggins to sponsor a bill to ban recreational suction dredge mining pending completion of an EIR examining the practice.

Senator Wiggins' bill – SB 670 - passed the California State Senate in late May by a vote of 31 to 8. The bill next heads to the Assembly for consideration. SB 670 is an “urgency” measure, meaning that it would take effect immediately upon passage by both houses of the Legislature and signing by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the Governator has vetoed bills to ban suction dredging in the past and it remains unclear whether he will sign SB 670.

Siskiyou County and some rural Northern California newspapers have decried the potential ban as an attack on local economies which have become more dependent on all form of recreation in recent years. Recreational mining supporters claim that suction dredging actually helps salmon by depositing clean gravel downstream. They point out that salmon regularly choose these clean gravel deposits.

Most fisheries biologists and many restorationists, however, have observed that these gravel beds are not stable and often blow out during high winter flows dispersing any salmon eggs which were deposited in the gravel. Salmon eggs in mining spoils can also become dewatered when stream levels fall before the rains arrive (see photo below from the Lower Scott River). For these and other reasons, many fisheries biologists believe suction dredge mining results in lower salmon production.

Gravel spoils from suction dredge mining - Lower Scott River

Other critics of recreational mining say it should not be considered mining in the sense of the 1872 federal law. That law was designed to spur development of the country’s mineral resources. Recreation was not contemplated. These critics say the Forest Service and other land management agencies should regulate suction dredging as “recreation” – not as mining. Recreators are not allowed to camp next to rivers and streams or to disturb the bed and banks of waterbodies.

Suction dredges and mining gear - Lower Scott River 2008

Meanwhile, the conflict has become ugly. Responding to a Sacramento Bee editorial by Karuk Vice-chairman Leaf Hillman, Jeff McCracken – president of the New Forty-Niners recreational mining club – denied Hillman’s claim that the gold miners who came to Klamath Country in the late 1800s "attempted genocide" on the Karuk Tribe. Calling it an “absurd and ugly charge” McCracken claimed that “Hillman knows there is not a shred of historical evidence to support his claim.”

Actually the historical evidence is quite clear. For example, in his Life Amongst the Modocs – Unwritten History, Joaquin Miller - who mined on the Klamath during the 1850s – describes how miners attacked and wiped out a Shasta village on Humbug Creek in what is now Siskiyou County. And in his book Little White Father – Redick McKee on the California Frontier historian Ray Raphael presents historical documents confirming numerous instances of white miners and settlers organizing to “exterminate” whole villages and ultimately even entire tribes.

One individual who mined in Karuk territory near the mouth of the Salmon River was Tom Hinton, known locally as “Wooley”. Historian Raphael quotes one of McKee’s reports gleaned from US Senate archives: "Wooley came into the tent.....swearing that he would shoot Indians whenever he could find them; that he had done so, and would continue to do so."

Wooley Creek – which contains sites of spiritual importance to the Karuk People - was apparently named after this notorious Indian murderer. Some local residents would like to see the creek's name changed.

Newspaper accounts of the time and numerous documents preserved by the Siskiyou County Historical Society attest to the fact that miners and other whites regularly practiced vigilantism targeting Indians and even organized a “campaign of extermination” against the Indians of the central Klamath, Shasta and Scott. These documents are housed in the Siskiyou County Museum at Yreka and are available to those who care to study them.

The current recreational mining controversy has brought the specter of racial conflict once again to the fore in Klamath Country. True to historical form, Siskiyou County’s elected officials - led by Supervisor Marcia Armstrong - side with white miners and attack Karuk leaders.

Racism appears to be alive and well in Klamath Country. We expect it will continue to surface from time to time and continue to undermine community cohesion. Some residents believe a process of Truth and Reconciliation – which sorts out, acknowledges and reconciles the history of white–red relations – will prove necessary before residents of the Klamath River Basin can finally overcome the area’s bloody history and move on to a future that celebrates – not just tolerates – diversity.

But who has the courage to lead such an effort?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Donnybrook in the offing – Klamath debate shifts to Congress


donnybrook: an uproar, a free-for-all, a brawl. Derived from the Irish town of the same name famous for brawling.

cabal: A clique (often secret) that seeks power usually through intrigue)

The long-promised “Draft 12” of the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) has been completed…or has it? While those in control refuse to release Draft 12, the Klamath Basin Crisis (KBC) website published a copy recently. It is labeled "KBRA Latest version of Draft 11" and dated 5/6/09. Whether this is Draft 12 or 11b, our hats are off to Jacqui Krizo of KBC for liberating a document which powerful interests do not want the people of the Klamath River Basin to see – at least not yet!

This latest version of the KBRA is even longer and more convoluted than Draft 11 with lots of complex legal language. But one thing is clear: it does not follow through on the promise made by Glen Spain – who represents the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens’ Associations (PCFFA) in the negotiations – that the Klamath Settlement Group (KSG) would address the serious issues which have been raised with Draft 11 since it was release 16 months ago.

Spain is one of the dominant personalities in the secretive collection of organizations and agencies which calls itself the Klamath Settlement Group (KSG). Along with Troy Fletcher representing the Yurok Tribe, Chuck Bonham representing Trout Unlimited and Paul Simmons who represents the small group of wealthy irrigators who have long dominated Upper Klamath Basin politics (aka Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), Spain forms a leadership cabal which preaches consensus but consults, meets and makes important decisions without consulting other KSG members.

The cabal recently revealed its true temperament. After over two years of frustrated effort to make the KBRA a document it could support, The Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) decided that all its suggestions were going to be ignored. Consequently the organization declared its intent to leave the KBRA but remain in negotiations with PacifiCorp and others over the fate of that corporation’s five Klamath River dams.

The cabal, however, has always insisted that the two agreements are inseparable. This, of course, is a silly notion. It is not necessary, for example, to provide a small group of rich irrigators with primacy in water allocation and many millions in anti-competitive subsidies in order for a dam agreement to work. In fact the opposite is true – the mass of special interest subsidies and benefits which the cabal seeks to tag onto a dam deal makes actually removing the dams much more difficult and uncertain.

Working through the KSG’s “facilitator” – a man personally chosen for the task by the Bush Administration’s Interior Department – the cabal informed the NEC that it would be banned from continuing dam negotiations. But the NEC representative, Greg King, cried foul; the NEC insisted that the entire group follow its declared consensus process.

This is not the first time the cabal has sought to control the KSG agenda and process. For example, certain non-scientists (Glen Spain among them) were allowed to participate in the much heralded “science summit” while others - including Petey Brucker of the Klamath Forest Alliance - sought but were denied access. Other KSG members have complained privately about the cabal’s control of the KSG process. But, except for the NEC, none have apparently risen to challenge cabal control.

Cabal members lost no time in attacking the NEC once it decided to withdraw from the Klamath Water Deal (KBRA). For example, Glen Spain recently claimed that the NEC’s press release explaining why it rejected the water deal is “riddled with outright errors and misstatements.”

The cabal wants the agreement they crafted and controlled behind closed doors to become the center of the Klamath debate. But KlamBlog predicts this tactic will fail. There are real alternatives to the cabal’s vision for the Klamath’s future. For example, soon after release of Draft 11 KlamBlog published an analysis of the KBRA which identified “strengths, weaknesses and alternatives” to its major provisions. You can refer back to that analysis by scrolling down to the January 18, 2008 KlamBlog entry. Or you can use this link.

We will soon see other alternatives articulated which will figure prominently as the Klamath debate shifts to Congress.

The NEC says it stands by its explanation of why it was forced to abandon negotiations. Fortunately citizens can now decide for themselves. Klamath Basin Crisis has published the May 6, 2009 draft of the KBRA. You can compare it with the original Draft 11, dated January 15, 2008, on the KBC site. Decide for yourself whether Glen Spain’s claim - that major issues with Draft 11 raised by diverse interests and individuals have been adequately addressed - is accurate or false.

It appears clear that we are heading for a donnybrook in Congress over the future of the Klamath River Basin. On one side will be the Irrigation Elite (aka Klamath Water Users Association), Trout Unlimited, The Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes and others; one the other side will be the Northcoast Environmental Center, Hoopa Tribe, Oregon Wild, Water Watch of Oregon and others.

Where PCFFA will come down remains to be seen. If Glen Spain has his way they will join with the Irrigation Elite and others. But that route is not supported by some prominent fishermen and could lead to a deep rupture between PCFFA and the very environmental organizations which have been the salmon fishermen’s staunchest allies in the battle to restore Pacific Salmon. How the PCFFA Board will vote remains in doubt.