News & Stories

  • Here’s How the Largest Dam Removal Project in the U.S. Would Work

    July 19, 2018

    Water Deeply By Tara Lohan

    Four dams on the Klamath River may be simultaneously removed as early as 2021, after years of planning. It’s being hailed as a crucial effort to save salmon, but it won’t solve all the basin’s water problems.

    No one is popping the champagne corks just yet, but the process to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River just took a big step forward. On June 28, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation released the Definite Plan for the Lower Klamath Project, a 2,300-page detailed analysis of how the reservoirs would be drawn down, the dams removed, the materials disposed of and the formerly inundated land restored.

    The document will be reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and an independent board of consultants. After any necessary revisions are made – and if no further regulatory hurdles emerge – removal of the dams would begin in 2021.

    For many, that moment will be the culmination of two decades of talks, coalition building and planning. Curtis Knight, executive director of the nonprofit California Trout, remembers going to his first meeting regarding the dams’ future in 2000. “I marked that date with the birth of my daughter,” he said. “She’s now a senior in high school next year – that’s how long it’s been going on.”

    The dams – Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and J.C. Boyle – are four of six dams along the mainstem of the Klamath River, which runs for more than 250 miles from Oregon’s Upper Klamath Lake to the Pacific Ocean in Requa, California, just south of Crescent City. The dams have been blamed for failing populations of wild fish runs, such as salmon and steelhead, as well as exacerbating water quality problems in the river.

    Their removal would open up 400 miles of mainstem and tributary habitat and would be an unprecedented endeavor. “There’s never been four dams removed simultaneously anywhere in the U.S. or beyond,” said Steve Rothert, California regional director at the nonprofit American Rivers.

    Rothert is eager to finally see the dams removed. And he’s not alone.

    “To hear the tribes talk about the loss, the devastation when the first dam went up – it was 1918 when Copco 1 was built and first blocked the fish,” he said. “They’ve been waiting a century for this. It puts my impatience in perspective.”

    A Long Time Coming

    For Craig Tucker, media spokesperson for the Karuk Tribe, dam removal on the river can’t come soon enough. “Our fish runs are struggling,” he said. “Last year was one of the worst salmon runs we ever had; we had massive disease outbreaks. These fish aren’t going to last much longer if we don’t do something significant.”

    The Karuk and other Klamath River tribes have long opposed the dams, which blocked fish migration to the Upper Basin. But the effort to remove them took on renewed fervor in the early 2000s when stakeholder meetings first began, triggered by the relicensing process for the dams, owned by PacifiCorp, as part of the 50-year review process by FERC.

    In 2004, the Karuk took their fight against the dams to Scotland to protest at shareholder meetings of Scottish Power, which owned PacifiCorp. A few years later, Scottish Power sold PacifiCorp to Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and the fight moved to Warren Buffett’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.

    “The work with the company started out being very confrontational,” said Tucker. But over time that changed, driven largely by economics and a growing coalition in the Klamath River Basin interested in dam removal and restoration.

    By 2010, estimates to address new requirements for fish passage and water quality, including reducing toxic algae blooms, put the cost of keeping the dams at more than $400 million – higher than the current costs for removing the dams and the subsequent restoration work.

    The dams are used only for hydropower and not water supply or flood control, and so the expense to upgrade them to obtain a new operational license from FERC didn’t seem to justify the amount of electricity they generated for PacifiCorp, according to Tucker.

    A statement by the energy company said it entered into the current agreement, known as the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, “based upon its assessment that the KHSA provided superior cost and risk protections for PacifiCorp and its customers as compared to continuing on a path of relicensing.”

    For a number of years, efforts to remove the dams were tied to a larger plan, the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Act, which dealt with other issues of water management in the Upper Klamath Basin, but that fell through after Congress failed to authorize it in 2015.

    Dam removal efforts pushed forward, however, and in 2016 an amended Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement was finalized. PacifiCorp agreed to transfer the dam licenses to a newly created entity, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which would then take over the decommissioning and removal of the facilities, pending approval by FERC.

    The project will be paid for by two primary sources: $200 million that comes from PacifiCorp ratepayers and up to $250 million from Proposition 1, a water bond passed in California in 2014. The project estimate puts costs now at $398 million.

    Getting the Job Done

    There’s no doubt that the removal of the four dams is a big deal. “It sounds like an epic undertaking, and in some ways it is,” said Rothert. “But it’s also just a matter of putting more people and big yellow machines on the job.”

    But before the dams are breached, considerable work will take place to improve local roads to handle the construction traffic, and to prepare the sites that will be used for staging and disposing of materials – all of which is detailed in the Definite Plan.

    All four reservoirs will be drawn down simultaneously in a roughly eight-week period beginning in January, currently scheduled for 2021, explained Mark Bransom, executive director of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation.

    “We fully appreciate that it is going to be something of a significant impact,” he said. The time of year was chosen to minimize risks to fish, many of which are likely to be in tributaries or the ocean at that time.

    The best-case scenario would be a wet winter with a number of high-flow events that can help move the sediment that’s been trapped behind the dams, said Rothert.

    The removal of sediment is one of the biggest wild cards in dam removal, according to California Trout’s Knight. “Is there unfound toxicity in there? We haven’t found any yet, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some there,” he said. “What is the composition of the sediment really like and how is that going to move itself downriver? What are the impacts on fish? Those are some of the bigger unknowns.”

    There will inevitably be some fish mortality in the process, but “I think everyone understands the trade-off there – it’s a short-term hit for a long-term benefit,” Knight said.

    In addition to ecological considerations and technical concerns, the Definite Plan also specifically addresses how to deal with the cultural resources of the tribes that are around the edges of the reservoirs or even inundated by the reservoirs themselves.

    There are also some private property issues related to flood risk in a section of the river 18 miles below Iron Gate Dam. “We’re undertaking efforts to protect structures that are likely to be at some increased risk” of a 100-year flood, said Bransom.

    The dams themselves will then be removed – with Iron Gate the tallest at 173ft high and Copco 2 the shortest at 33ft – but so too will all the other associated infrastructure, including canals, turbines, powerhouses, water intakes and a fish hatchery.

    Then the process of restoration of the formerly inundated lands will begin. “There are many, many square miles that will be exposed upon drawdown of the reservoirs, and so we have to have a detailed proposal on how we will reestablish native vegetation and stabilize the site and do work to provide habitat where appropriate to assure tributary connectivity,” said Bransom. The largest reservoir area is Copco 1 at 1,000 acres.

    More Work Ahead

    With the four dams gone, fisheries groups believe that fish populations are likely to rebound quickly.

    “What American Rivers has seen hundreds of times across the country is that the fish that have been blocked for decades, and sometimes over a century, just instinctively know that they need to swim past where the dam used to be and keep going and will repopulate and recolonize historic spawning grounds often in the first years and even the first weeks of access,” said Rothert.

    But no one believes dam removal will be a cure-all for larger environmental and water management problems in the Klamath Basin. Rothert said that more needs to be done to address tributaries such as the Shasta and Scott rivers. “That’s really where fish spawn, rear and get fat and big, and those two small rivers crank out the lion’s share of Klamath River wild salmon,” he said. “And they are just being destroyed to grow cows and alfalfa. I think a lot of the attention needs to be focused on those rivers.”

    Knight agrees that “tributary restoration is one of the big things that needs to be done to fully realize the potential” of the river.

    Addressing flow issues in the Upper Klamath Basin where water is diverted for farming and ranching is another long-term problem that needs to be solved. Tribes, environmental groups, agricultural groups and federal agencies have butted heads over disagreements there for years.

    There is currently a “lot of tension around water rights” in the basin, said Rothert.

    On Friday, a federal judge in San Francisco will hear a case brought by the Klamath Tribes against federal agencies to protect water levels in Upper Klamath Lake for endangered fish. A ruling in the Klamath Tribes’ favor could cut off water for irrigators in the Upper Klamath Basin and reignite a regional water war. “Things could get really ugly this summer on the Klamath,” said Tucker.

    “The removal of the dams is an important step, but just a step in what needs to be a comprehensive basin approach to recovery and stability,” said Rothert. “Not only for commercial and recreation fishermen and tribes who depend on a healthy fishery, but also the farmers and ranchers who use water from the Klamath to irrigate, and who need a more predictable and reliable business environment with water supply being key for them to really succeed.”
     

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  • Why are these salmon jumping

    July 13, 2018

    Science By Joshua Rapp Learn

    Young sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) have a curious behavior: They jump up to 30 centimeters in the air, sometimes skimming along the surface for close to a meter using their tail fins, about nine times a day on average. They even do this when no obstacles are in their way. The reason, according to a new study, is that they’re infested with sea lice—and are trying to splash them off.

    Researchers already suspected that salmon leap to dislodge sea lice, a pea-size parasite that feeds on mucus, blood, and skin. Fish plagued by the lice jump out of the water 14 times more often than those that are lice-free do. But scientists didn’t know whether this helped rid them of the bloodsuckers.

    So in the new study, researchers caught juvenile sockeye salmon infested with sea lice and separated them into two floating ocean pens in a sheltered ocean bay in British Columbia in Canada—one pen where they were allowed to leap, and one covered with netting just beneath the surface. After letting the experiment run for 3 days, the scientists found that salmon that couldn’t jump from the water had 28% more sea lice than those that could, as they report in an article cheekily titled "Oust the Louse" in the Journal of Fish Biology.

    Young sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) have a curious behavior: They jump up to 30 centimeters in the air, sometimes skimming along the surface for close to a meter using their tail fins, about nine times a day on average. They even do this when no obstacles are in their way. The reason, according to a new study, is that they’re infested with sea lice—and are trying to splash them off.

    Researchers already suspected that salmon leap to dislodge sea lice, a pea-size parasite that feeds on mucus, blood, and skin. Fish plagued by the lice jump out of the water 14 times more often than those that are lice-free do. But scientists didn’t know whether this helped rid them of the bloodsuckers.

    So in the new study, researchers caught juvenile sockeye salmon infested with sea lice and separated them into two floating ocean pens in a sheltered ocean bay in British Columbia in Canada—one pen where they were allowed to leap, and one covered with netting just beneath the surface. After letting the experiment run for 3 days, the scientists found that salmon that couldn’t jump from the water had 28% more sea lice than those that could, as they report in an article cheekily titled "Oust the Louse" in the Journal of Fish Biology.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Eel River salmon, steelhead habitat to be restored after being blocked by railroad for 104 years

    July 12, 2018

    Eureka Times Standard By Will Houston

    The early 20th century wrought significant damage and changes to the Eel River and its fish populations through zealous overfishing and blockage of key tributaries by railroads and dams, which limited salmon and steelhead’s ability to recover.

    But projects are now underway to restore these tributaries to their previous state with the hope of simultaneously restoring the once bountiful runs in state’s third largest river basin.

    “It’s like turning on a whole new watershed,” California Trout’s North Coast Regional Director Darren Mierau of Arcata said, who is leading the project. “This will be a major piece of habitat restored and accessible to salmon and steelhead now.”

    Groundbreaking has already begun at Woodman Creek in Mendocino County where the construction of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad blocked off about 14 miles of prime fish habitat for more than a century, according to CalTrout.

    Mierau said railroad workers at the time filled in about 500 feet of the creek and blasted a large hole in the bedrock in order to complete a bridge. These changes altered the mouth of the creek so that fish would now have to leap 12 feet vertically to access the creek, which Mierua said essentially cut off access to most fish.

    With the aid of local businesses like Pacific Earthscapes, Pacific Watershed Associates and Mike Love & Associates, the project is now working to shift the mouth of the creek back to its original outlet, which will be done by exhuming the sediment placed there more than 100 years ago, Mierau said.

    About 4,000 feet of railroad will also be removed, though the Woodman Creek bridge will remain, Mierau said. Construction is set to be completed by September.

    CalTrout states about 12 full-time prevailing wage jobs will be created by the project. The project is being funded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Restoration Grant Program, according to CalTrout.

    “This is a $2.2 million project so we’re bringing in significant funding to the local economy, and then the outcome is also is very beneficial,” Mierau said. “Restoring salmon and steelhead populations in the Eel River will eventually allow us to have a commercial fishery again.”

    Commercial fishing on the Eel River was banned in 1926 after decades of overfishing. A report issued last year by UC Davis and CalTrout estimated that nearly 75 percent of the state’s 31 salmon, steelhead and trout species are likely to become extinct in the next century if current trends continue.

    The Eel River is believed by researchers to have once supported salmon runs that exceeded a half-million fish, but salmon runs now hover around 15,000.

    The Woodman Creek project is seven years in the making, time which was used to get the buy-in of the North Coast Railroad Authority — which was created in the 1980s to protect and restore the rail line — and to obtain the nearly $2.2 million needed to complete the project.

    While the railroad authority has since stated it has no intention of restoring the rail line through Eel River Canyon — a project that is estimated to cost more than $1 billion — Mierau said that wasn’t the case when he approached the authority in 2012.

    Railroad authority board member and 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said that finding productive ways to remove and update the old rail lines through the canyon is now one of the authority’s top priorities.

    “Restoring fish passage on Woodman Creek is critically important for native fish populations in the Eel River,” Fennell said in a statement.

    CalTrout completed a similar project in 2014 at Bridge Creek in Humboldt County in which an earthen dam and culvert system built during the railroad’s construction was removed to allow for fish passage.

    The Eel River Canyon may see another large change should the Great Redwood Trail Act, also known as SB 1029, be approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown. The bill by North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) would run a trail along the rail line through the Eel River canyon from the Bay Area to Humboldt County.

    Mierau said they are in conversations with McGuire about looking at other stream crossings in the canyon that might be blocking fish passage.

     

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  • State water plan could cut into Central Valley farm production

    July 10, 2018

    Bakersfield Now by Emma Goss, Eyewitness News

    BAKERSFIELD, Calif (KBAK/KBFX) - The plan to save a declining salmon population in Northern California comes with a cost to Central Valley farmers.

    After nine years of research, the California State Water Control Board is finalizing a plan to help bring the salmon population back, after sharply declining by 90 percent in recent years.

    "The conditions are very degraded," said Erin Foresman, supervisory senior environmental scientist for the State Water Board.

    Dams and other changes to their habitat have removed many areas of water where salmon go to spawn.

    The proposal would take water from other parts of California and redirect it northward, boosting the flow of water to support salmon habitat. It would also take water away from parts of the Central Valley.

    "We don't have a full picture of what it means," said Curtis Creel, the general manager of the Kern County Water Agency. He said he's concerned farmers may take a financial hit.

    "Taking away a source of water, a major source of water that is originating elsewhere in the state, will have a huge detrimental effect in Kern County," Creel said.

    He said this might require farmers to rely more on groundwater, which is state regulated.

    The State Water Board estimates the plan would cost the San Joaquin River Valley $69 million in lost agricultural production, or 2.6 percent, a year.

    The California Farm Bureau Federation is hoping for a better option.

    "We need to work to find a way to achieve our fisheries goals while also sustaining our rural communities," said Jack Rice, senior counsel at the California Farm Bureau Federation.

    "To do that, we look at ways where the local community can work on habitat, where they can provide improved or enhanced management of invasive species, where they can be part of the solution and not just a target of the regulation," Rice added.

    The State Water Board is taking those concerns seriously, seeking public comment with plans to finalize the proposal in August.

    "This effort is really about sharing the river thoughtfully, because we as Californians deserve healthy communities, healthy agriculture and a healthy natural environment," said Matt Holland, environmental program manager at the State Water Board.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Outdoors: Wide-open ocean salmon fishing doesn’t let up

    July 10, 2018

    Stockton Record By Dan Bacher, Record Correspondent

    SAN FRANCISCO — If you want to hook big, bold Chinook salmon outside of the Golden Gate, now is the time to do it. The boats from Half Moon Bay to Bodega Bay have been returning with limits of salmon every day, weather permitting, since the season began on June 17.

    The 25 anglers on a half day trip aboard the Bass Tub on Sunday landed limits of salmon to 22 pounds, Captain Aaron Anfinson reported.

    “Because of rough weather, we decided to fish the calmer seas off the Marin County Coast,” Anfinson said. “We picked up the salmon at a variety of depths, from as shallow as 12 feet to as deep as 60 feet. We were done by 10 a.m. with limits of kings averaging 10 pounds each.”

    On a couple of trips where the anglers limited out trolling for salmon early, Anfinson went back into the bay to target halibut and bass. “One trip produced limits of salmon and nine halibut for nine anglers, while another trip yielded limits of both salmon and striped bass for 12 anglers,” he said. Information: (415) 456-9055.

    On Monday, the New Easy Rider out of the Berkeley Marina reported 25 limits of kings to 22 pounds. “The fish were even biting on the mooch,” said Captain Joey Gallia, referring to the mooching method that works best when the salmon are concentrated in large numbers. Information: (707) 422-2050.

    Other salmon boats reported limit salmon action on Monday, according to the Golden Gate Fisherman’s Association:

    The C Gull II (Emeryville) returned with 17 limits of salmon; Chasin Crustacean (Sausalito), eight limits of salmon; Hog Heaven (Sausalito), 20 limits of salmon; Lovely Martha (San Francisco), 31 limits of salmon; New Captain Pete (Half Moon Bay), 20 limits of salmon; New Rayann (Sausalito), 24 limits of salmon to 21 pounds; New Sea Angler

    (Bodega Bay), 22 limits of salmon to 27 pounds; Outer Limits (Sausalito), 24 limits of salmon to 24 pounds; Right Hook (Berkeley), seven limits of salmon; Salty Lady (Sausalito), 31 limits of salmon to 25 pounds; Sundance (Emeryville), six limits of salmon; and Wacky Jacky (SF), 17 limits of salmon to 25 pounds.

    The anglers that fished live bait inside and outside of San Francisco Bay on Monday also experienced top-notch action on striped bass and halibut, as well as nailing rockfish and lingcod.

    The California Dawn (Berkeley) reported that 32 people landed 50 halibut to 25 pounds, 32 limits of striped bass, 25 rockfish and one lingcod Monday. The six anglers aboard Flash (SF) landed 5 halibut and six limits of stripers; while the 26 people on the New Huck Finn (Emeryville) bagged 234 rockfish, 26 limits of striped bass, and 15 lingcod.

    River King opener: Anglers on the Sacramento, Feather, American and Mokelumne rivers are hoping that the superb ocean salmon fishing so far this year will translate into improved salmon action this season on the rivers.

    The season on these Central Valley rivers will open on Monday. The bag limit will be only one salmon per day and two in possession.

    North Delta smallmouth bass: This is the time of year when smallmouth and largemouth bass both provide outstanding light tackle action in Sutter, Miner, Steamboat and other sloughs. Use jigs, swim jigs and crawdad crankbaits early and late in the day for the best success. Information: (925) 234-4694.

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