Two Rivers Tribune Guest Editorial of March 28, 2010

March 28, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Two Rivers Tribune Guest Editorial of March 28, 2010
More Ethical Problems with Klamath Dam Removal Process than Press Releases
By Pat Higgins
Thanks to the Two Rivers Tribune for the excellent article on the ethics scandal related to
the government dam removal process (Whistle-Blower Says DOI Employees Spun
Science on Klamath Dam Removal). The dismissal of Scientific Integrity Officer Dr.
Paul Houser by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) for trying to keep them honest is truly
ironic but not a surprise to someone who has tracked the Klamath dam removal process
closely. While Dr. Houser may be restricting his concerns to whether the Department of
Interior (DOI) press releases reflected scientific findings, in fact the ethics problems and
abuse of science goes much deeper than that.
Your article is correct in its assertion that government staff ended up as promoters of the
Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and its companion Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement (KBRA) because of the Secretary of Interior’s strong
pronouncement of support. Environmental documents produced by the government
provided no alternatives to the KBRA, such as ecological restoration, which is illegal
under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requires the government
to “study, develop, and describe appropriate alternatives to recommended courses of
action in any proposal which involves unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of
available resources.” In stead of analyzing controversial aspects of the KBRA, the
government claimed that actions under the KBRA were not yet defined. The real reason
the actions of the KBRA were not analyzed is because they couldn’t be scientifically
The best scientific reports related to the Klamath dam removal process were those
produced by Expert Panels for Chinook Salmon and for Steelhead and Coho Salmon,
which were composed of some of the foremost authorities on salmon restoration. The
questions raised by these experts are not even broached in the government documents.
DOI selected the same quote as representative of the Chinook Expert Panel in all
documents and presentations: “The Proposed Action appears to be a major step forward
in conserving Chinook compared with decades of vigorous disagreements, obvious fish
passage barriers, and continued ecological degradation.”
Actually the Chinook Expert Panel stated that lack of effective KBRA nutrient reduction
in the Upper Klamath Basin would cause the Keno Reservoir reach to remain an anoxic
dead-zone for weeks a year. With regard to sufficiency of pollution reduction of the
KBRA they stated that “The Panel is nevertheless very concerned that the magnitude of
the proposed solutions may not match the scope and extent of the water quality
problem…. Without solving the water quality problems, a fully self-sustaining run of fall
Chinook salmon to the upper basin is unlikely.”
The Steelhead and Coho Expert Panel also expressed concern that lower Klamath River
algae blooms would continue after dam removal, creating stressful conditions for
salmonid juveniles: “Thus, it would be premature to conclude that any problems caused
by these blooms, including low dissolved oxygen, will be substantially reduced by
The recently released dam removal Overview report is another example of out of control
spin. It blatantly mischaracterizes Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
findings stating that “FERC (2007) concluded that dam removal would enhance water
quality and reduce the cumulative water quality and habitat effects that contribute to
disease-induced salmon die-offs in the Klamath River downstream of Iron Gate Dam.”
In reality, the FERC final Environmental Impact Statement on dam relicensing asserts
that acute fish disease problems would likely continue after dam removal and that only
the location of where the concentration of fish diseases organisms occur would change.
Lost River and shortnose suckers are the canaries in the Upper Klamath coal mine and
the Overview report makes the following claim: “KBRA implementation would provide
greater promise for preventing extinction of these species, and for increasing overall
population abundance and productivity, than would occur if the dams were left place and
KBRA was not implemented.” Only three populations of these fish remain: Tule Lake,
Upper Klamath Lake and Clear Lake in the upper Lost River.
On April 22, 2010, less than 90 days after the KBRA was signed, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a revised Biological Opinion for Klamath Project
operation allowing BOR to drop Tule Lake to where it would no longer support suckers
and allowing their removal. Although federal agencies are not bound by the KBRA
without authorizing legislation, no other reason but adherence to the KBRA seems to
explain USFWS complicity. The agency abdicating its responsibility to protect
endangered suckers raises moral questions of the highest order.
The reason that Klamath River water quality problems cannot be solved by the KBRA is
that not enough of the marsh and lakes of the Upper Basin would be restored so that the
natural water storage and water purification capacity of the ecosystem can be rebuilt.
Dam decommissioning can be achieved through the FERC relicensing process instead of
the KHSA. If the Klamath River is ultimately to be saved, the KBRA must be abandoned
for legislation taking an ecological restoration approach similar to the Everglades, which
is the only scientifically valid approach.
Patrick Higgins is a consulting fisheries biologist who has been assisting the Resighini
Rancheria with response to the government’s Klamath dam removal process

Filed in: Klamath

Dr. Paul R. Houser

About the Author (Author Profile)

Dr. Houser in an internationally recognized expert in local to global land surface-atmospheric remote sensing, in-situ observation and numerical simulation, development and application of hydrologic data assimilation methods, scientific integrity and policy, and global water and energy cycling. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Hydrology and Water Resources from the University of Arizona in 1992 and 1996 respectively. Dr. Houser's previous experience includes internships at the U.S. Geological Survey and at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dr. Houser joined the NASA-GSFC Hydrological Sciences Branch and the Data Assimilation Office (DAO/GMAO) in 1997, served as manager of NASA’s Land Surface Hydrology Program, and served as branch head of the Hydrological Science Branch. In 2005, he joined the George Mason University Climate Dynamics Program and the Geography and Geoinformation Sciences Department as Professor of Global Hydrology, and formed CREW (the Center for Research for Environment and Water). Dr. Houser has also teamed with groundwater development and exploration companies (EarthWater Global and Geovesi) and has served as Science Advisor to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Dr. Houser has led numerous scientific contributions, including the development of Land Data Assimilation Systems (LDAS), the Hydrospheric States Mission (Hydros/SMAP), the Land Information System (LIS), the NASA Energy and Water cycle Study (NEWS), and the Water Cycle Solutions Network (WaterNet).

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