River Activists and Tribes Prepare For Water Board Public Hearings in Orleans, Arcata and Yreka

Former Hoopa Valley Tribal Council Member, Hayley Hutt shown outside of the California Water Resources Control Board Meeting in Sacramento on  July 17, 2012, where the Hoopa Tribe has continually asked the Water Board to stop stalling the 401 Clean Water Certification process for PacifiCorp. The Hoopa Valley Tribe has argued that stalling the 401 certification process only buys PacifCorp more without being accoutnable for the poor water quality conditions their dams cause on the Klamath River./TRT file photo.

Former Hoopa Valley Tribal Council Member, Hayley Hutt shown outside of the California Water Resources Control Board Meeting in Sacramento on July 17, 2012, where the Hoopa Tribe has continually asked the Water Board to stop stalling the 401 Clean Water Certification process for PacifiCorp. The Hoopa Valley Tribe has argued that stalling the 401 certification process only buys PacifCorp more without being accoutnable for the poor water quality conditions their dams cause on the Klamath River./TRT file photo.

By MALCOLM TERENCE, Two Rivers Tribune Contributing Writer

Originally published in Volume 22, Issue 2 (January 12, 2016) of the Two Rivers Tribune.

Now that hopes for a settlement to Klamath River water issues have collapsed in Congress, dam removal proponents are shifting their attention to a series of four scoping meetings being sponsored by the State Water Resources Control Board.

The downriver tribes, who were not all in accord on the settlement agreements, may travel much more parallel paths at this stage.

The schedule includes a meeting Thursday, January 14, in Sacramento, then meetings in Arcata on Monday, January 25, and in Orleans and Yreka, both on Tuesday, January 26. The Orleans session is an add-on requested by the Karuk Tribe in their effort to encourage more input from people in the river communities. It is a step in the process open to both scientists and to locals who may want to make sure the Water Board does not overlook any issue dam opponents consider important.

Mike Orcutt is director of fisheries for the Hoopa Tribe, which was not a signatory to the Klamath settlements, but which does oppose relicensing the dams. His tribe has challenged the authority of the Water Board in court because the board and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, called the FERC, have delayed a relicensing decision since the old set of licenses expired in 2006.

The dam owner, PacifiCorp, was granted repeated license extensions because the settlement talks between irrigators, fishermen, tribes and other stakeholders were in progress. But Orcutt said he expected the Hoopa Tribe to enter input to the scoping because, even though there is currently litigation in progress, “obviously we could lose.”

He said all the tribes—Hoopa, Yurok and Karuk—were on parallel paths calling for dam removal and he expected all would enter scoping to the Water Board.

Scoping is a step in the environmental assessment process where an agency is gathering issues to examine—concerns like costs and risks. These get studied and written-up into an Environmental Impact Report, an EIR, in the next stages. In the end the members of the Water Board will decide which alternative to accept, ranging from issuing the permits as requested to complete removal of the three lowest dams, the ones in California.

The fourth dam, called J.C. Boyle, is in Oregon and falls under the authority that state’s Department of Environmental Quality, although the California agency still can address polluted water discharges from the upper dam that enter California.
All this takes time and Orcutt said that PacifiCorp benefits financially from the delays.

Glen Spain is Northwest Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), the organization of commercial fishermen. He restated that the current meetings are to decide what needs to be analyzed.

He said it is critical not to let the dam owner get away with too narrow a scope, “not just the costs of change, but also the costs of doing nothing.”

Spain encouraged locals to show up and talk to the Board’s representatives, but “it is not enough to tell them to take the dams down. We need to tell them why.”

He said the issue will later go to the California Public Utilities Commission, but that agency is limited to looking at the effects on power company ratepayers. The Water Board has to look at water quality, but Spain said the definition needs to be broadened.

He said presenters should testify about problems that could not be remedied by a quick fix, what writers of EIRs call “mitigations.” As an example, he noted how the dams in the upper river stop the replacement of spawning gravels in the lower river.

Mike Belchik, senior fisheries biologist with the Yurok Tribe, says the dam owner wants to show the impacts of the dams on fish survival are minimal, “but I don’t think they can.”

As example, he said the water warms when it is held behind Iron Gate, the lowest dam in the series, to temperatures not encountered before the dams were built. This is especially true of September releases, when spawning fish reach the upper reaches of the river. These earliest fish cannot find cold water refugia and either die from the heated water or deliver eggs which have died.

This has created a run in the Klamath where the early-run fish populations have dwindled so this has left only a late run on the Klamath side. This run, Belchik said, ends up entering the river at the same time as the Trinity River run. Suddenly the cool water holes become over-crowded, and these fish densities, compounded by the warm water releases from Iron Gate Dam, promote the spread of fish diseases.

Old cannery records from July in the Klamath estuary support this hypothesis about pre-dam populations and timing, he said.

He said that the people gathering input at the scoping meetings are contractors, not necessarily the actual Water Board members who will make the final decisions, and he encouraged presenters to bring up issues such as tribal culture or climate change. “It makes people feel good to make impassioned pleas,” he said, but said this was not the best tactic.

A detailed list of the uses of the river that are the purview of the Water Board is available online at http://goo.gl/ImLpOS. It is a long list, but near its end are issues like Native American Culture, Subsistence Fishing, Commercial and Sport Fishing and Spawning, Reproduction, and/or Early Development.

An academic with a long history of linking river health to other issues is Dr. Kari Norgaard, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon. She wrote a paper 10 years ago titled “The Effects of Altered Diet on the Health of Karuk People.” It received national media attention and represented the first time a Tribe had successfully illustrated how dams lead to artificially high levels of diabetes and heart disease.

As preface to the scoping hearings, she wrote “Any evaluation of water quality impacts must not only consider the nature of the degradation (for example. direct human health impacts of water temperatures, as well as the human health consequences impacts of degrading traditional foods), but that these impacts are occurring in a highly unequal manner. Degraded water quality is an issue of environmental injustice.”

Craig Tucker, Natural Resources Policy Advocate for the Karuk Tribe, said the Karuk Tribe would submit written input to the scoping phase, but he also encouraged people to show up at the hearings.

“Locals have come out before many times, and we want them to come out again,” he said. ”We want them tell the Water Board how these dams affect the fishery, water quality and their lives. We need it again. The reason why the Tribe demanded a hearing on the river was so local people could have access.”

He said it was appropriate for people to express emotions, “but the Water Board is not the agency to be mad at, at this point. It’s appropriate to be expressing yourself, but don’t take it out on the Water Board, at least not yet.”

The Clean Water Act is a federal law, but authority to enforce it is handed out to the states, in the form of the Water Board in California. Tucker said there was no way continued operation of the dams can meet clean water standards, “especially the TMDLs on toxic algae and temperature.”

TMDL is shorthand for Total Maximum Daily Load, a regulatory term in the Clean Water Act, that describes the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards.

Tucker predicted that the Water Board might grant the dam owner a permit but with additional mitigations or conditions. “They already have to add fish ladders and the Water Board may add more. That will get even more costly,” he said.
A detailed explanation of the locations of the dams, their history and many links to earlier input, is available from the Water Board online at http://goo.gl/ahzJuj.

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