Tribe Objects to Chemical Tests on Klamath River

Algae blooms spread from the reservoirs into the river itself, and are a health hazard because of the toxin microcystin that the algae releases into the water. / Photo courtesy of Regina Chichizola, Communications for Hoopa Valley Tribe

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Tribes with territory along the Klamath River are not happy about a Sept. 6, 2012, PacifiCorp test of the algaecide GreenClean on water in the Copco Reservoir during the traditional world renewal ceremonies.

Regina Chichizola, the communication coordinator for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, said that the tribe was not notified about the test.

“We read about it in the Siskiyou County paper,” Chichizola said. “This is especially troubling because Hoopa has its own approved EPA.”

PacifiCorp operates several hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River. The company tested the hydrogen peroxide and peroxyacetic acid-based algaecide as a way to improve water quality in the river.

Each year blue-green algae blooms in the reservoirs behind the dams along the Klamath, fed by nutrient runoffs from agriculture. The algae contains microcystin toxin, which is hazardous.

Levels of microcystin have been recorded in the Klamath that are over 3000 times the limits set by the World Health Organization.

Bob Gravely, a spokesman for PacifiCorp, said, “We did a one-day fairly limited pilot test in Copco Reservoir in Siskiyou County.”

“The product we chose is EPA approved for use in drinking water supplies. It breaks down quickly into oxygen and water,” Gravely said.

Crystal Bowman, the water resource coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, questioned PacifiCorp’s safety precautions and pointed out that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists Peroxy compounds in Toxicity Category I.

According to the EPA website, “These compounds are corrosive and severely irritating to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. They have been placed in Toxicity Category I, indicating the greatest degree of acute toxicity, for eye and dermal irritation.”

Dean Brockbank, vice president and general counsel of PacifiCorp responded to critics of the algaecide tests in a letter to the Times-Standard editor.

Brockbank wrote, “PacifiCorp has closely coordinated the study with Klamath basin stakeholders for nearly two years prior to testing it in a very small cove at Copco reservoir. These stakeholders include the State Water Resources Control Board, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the Karuk and Yurok Tribes.”

Brockbank didn’t specify what he meant by ‘closely coordinated,’ but spokespersons for the Karuk Tribe said they made it known that they opposed the algaecide test, both before and after it took place.

In a letter to PacifiCorp dated seven days before the Copco Reservoir test, Bowman wrote, “The times of year when the algaecide would be used coincides with the time of the year that World Renewal Ceremonies are occurring down stream of the dams.”

“We cannot in good faith encourage the use of chemicals in the water during times of the year when medicine men are bathing in the river and when ceremonial activities center around the health of the river,” she added.

Gravely said, “We’re required to take steps to try to improve water quality, environmental conditions, and habitat within the area of our hydro project.”

Craig Tucker, the Klamath coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, said PacifiCorp is under a lot of pressure by regulatory agencies to mitigate the impacts of the dams and the algae blooms on the river.

“It is inconsistent with Karuk cultural practices to solve this problem by adding algaecides to the water. What would be consistent would be to remove the dams and have the river heal itself,” Tucker said.

The first hydroelectric dam on the Klamath River, Copco I, was started in 1918 and finished in 1921. Fish could no longer migrate up the river past the dam to spawn.

More dams were built along the river, and water was diverted away from the Klamath River and its tributaries for use by farmers. At one time, the Trinity River, which flows into the Klamath near Weitchpec, had 90 percent of its water flow diverted to the Sacramento Valley.

The salmon population collapsed, canneries were closed, and tribes in California were banned from fishing along the river until the 1970s.

The combination of stagnant water behind the dams, polluted return flows filled with fertilizer from farms, and warmer temperatures in the reservoirs creates the perfect living conditions for toxic algae.

“The dams create the algae,” Chichizola said. “It’s kind of like if you filled a bathtub with fertilizer and let it stagnate.”

Diverting water away from the rivers for agriculture can also lead to health hazards far worse than blooms of toxic blue-green algae.

In 2002, water was diverted away from the Klamath to desperate farmers during a drought, despite Endangered Species Act regulations designed to protect the river’s fish.

Political pressure was brought to bear on behalf of agribusinesses in Oregon, and the National Academy of Sciences delivered a report that there was “no substantial scientific foundation” to think that lower flows could harm fish.
Gale A. Norton, then Secretary of the Interior, flew to Klamath Falls to personally open the head gate to divert water away from the river and to the farmers in March 2002.

By September 2002, tens of thousands of fish were dead and rotting along the banks of the river.

Since then, minimum flow levels have been maintained on the river to protect fish under the Endangered Species Act, but toxic algae is still a problem.

“We have two relatively large reservoirs that have massive blooms of algae each year,” Tucker said. “For the past three weeks, the Klamath has been posted with warnings against contact with the water throughout Karuk territory.”

The Karuk Tribe, along with the Yurok Tribe, the Klamath Tribes, the US Secretary of the Interior, and the states of California and Oregon, signed an agreement with PacifiCorp to begin a process that could lead to removal of its four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River.

The Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) would require the cost of dam removal to be shared between PacifiCorp ratepayers and the State of California. Under the agreement, California would pay $250 million for dam removal, and dismantling of the dams would start in 2020.

The Hoopa Tribe, the Resighini Rancheria, and the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation did not sign the agreement even though all tribes favor dam removal.

The Hoopa and Resighini support simply decommissioning the dams through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Leonard Masten, the chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council, said PacifiCorp should be held responsible for their pollution.

“There is no question dam removal is needed, however the stalled out agreements have led to an air of lawlessness,” Masten said. “These agreements are not moving, yet Clean Water Act regulation has been stalled for seven years. It is time to use existing laws to get the dams out.”

In the meantime, PacifiCorp claims they are allowed to release algaecides into the river as an interim measure under the KHSA, despite the objections of tribes living downriver.

Gravely said PacifiCorp hasn’t decided whether or not they’ll release more algaecide into the river. The company is looking at the test samples and will be releasing a report towards the end of the year.

“There are no plans at this time to further use GreenClean on the river system,” Gravely said. “This was a limited pilot test which we’re evaluating.

The Karuk Tribe is still investigating whether or not the use of the algaecide was allowed under Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution standards set by the regional water board.

“If PacifiCorp tries to expand these algaecidal treatments on the river, we’re going to fight them,” Tucker said.

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October 11th, 2012

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