VOICES: Shasta River Deal Struck
Dear Two Rivers Tribune,
The January 21st edition of the TRT included the article “Shasta River Deal Struck” reporting on settlement of lawsuits by Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe which had challenged Dwinnell Dam on the Shasta River. I was quoted in the article: “He criticized the settlement as a “sell out” and said it would prevent Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe from advocating for Shasta River restoration.”
The quote was taken from an e-mail in which I reacted to the lawsuit’s settlement soon after hearing about it. I would like to explain and clarify that reaction.
Construction of Dwinnell Dam was completed in 1928. At the time, the Shasta River was a stronghold for Spring Chinook salmon. While records from the period are scarce, it is likely that more Springers were produced in the Shasta River watershed than in any other Klamath River tributary.
Virtually all Spring Chinook habitat in the Shasta is located above Dwinnell Dam and above the Parks Creek diversion which feeds Dwinnell Reservoir. It is, therefore, not surprising that within ten years of Dwinnell Dam’s construction the robust Shasta River run of Spring Chinook salmon was virtually wiped out.
The Springer habitat above Dwinnell Dam and its diversions is primarily on national forest land. Most of that habitat is still in good condition. That is why removal of Dwinnell Dam is likely the single action which would do the most to restore Klamath River Spring Chinook Salmon.
In 2010 Klamath Riverkeeper concluded that “the only likely solution to pollution in Dwinnell Reservoir is removal of the dam.”
But the lawsuits’ Settlement Agreement prohibits Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe from suing or advocating for removal of Dwinnell Dam. It even limits their ability to advocate for fish ladders so that salmon can get past the dam. These prohibitions last for 30 years. That means Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe are prohibited for 30 years from advocating for the most effective actions which could be taken to restore Klamath River Spring Chinook salmon.
The lawsuit’s Settlement Agreement requires that dam’s owners obtain an ESA “take” permit and a permit from the Army Corp of Engineers. The Settlement will also result in increased flows in the Shasta River below Dwinnell Dam and in a fish-screen on the dam’s Parks Creek diversion. There is little doubt these things will help Coho salmon. But the poor quality of water stored behind the dam limits the benefits that can be achieved by increased water releases. Increased flows are most likely not sufficient, for example, to lower Shasta River water temperatures to the point where they are not, at key times of the year, lethal to salmon.
Whether the lawsuit’s Settlement Agreement is, on balance, in the best interest of Klamath River Salmon is a matter of judgment. My reaction that settlement of the lawsuit is a “sell out” was, however, rash and unjustified; I apologize to Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe for that statement.
Those working to restore the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon have and will continue to disagree from time to time about how to best advance restoration. There should be open and robust discussion of restoration strategy, tactics and actions. But we should never question the sincerity or motives of those who are working for the River’s restoration and for the recovery of Klamath Salmon. Ultimately, we are all in this struggle together.