Paul R. Houser: Dam removal holds risks, uncertainties

June 24, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

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Paul R. Houser: Dam removal holds risks, uncertainties

Staff Reports

Sunday, June 24, 2012

After I questioned the accuracy of science reporting and summary documents related to the Klamath Secretarial Decision, I faced systematic reprisal and my job as the Bureau of Reclamation’s science advisor was terminated. Subsequently, I filed a scientific integrity allegation, and was invited to speak publicly about it in May. I was confronted with a very wide range of questions, where I carefully offered my opinion or relevant information. Dennis Lynch of the U.S. Geological Survey recently questioned some of this information (“Klamath science process is solid,” June 11). Below I summarize the rationale for my comments, and offer some additional perspective. (Full text available at prhouser.com/houser/?p=830).

1) Lynch states that “our team summarized these findings in an Overview Report that received a second layer peer review from six independent experts.” He fails to mention the peer review comment 3-5: “The Summary and Findings section does not sufficiently express the uncertainties in the responses to restoration options,” which is generally consistent with my allegation. These concerns should be addressed by writing a new summary that accurately portrays the dam removal uncertainties and risks, and the additional actions that will be needed to meet the environmental and societal goals.

2) Lynch disagrees with my comment that a more in-depth engineering analysis is needed to assure that Iron Gate Dam is removed safely. My comment was based on an EIS/EIR comment submitted by Stephen Koshy, who warned that notching the earth-filled Iron Gate Dam may cause it to fail. This concern can be addressed by providing a public response to Koshy along with the relevant engineering analyses.

3) Lynch disagrees with my comment that the sediment coming out of the dams would be the equivalent volume of one to three feet covering 190 miles of a 150-foot-wide channel. The sediment volume studies have discrepancies, but my volume equivalency calculations are correct. Further, the draft EIS/EIR states: “Short-term (2–yr) aggradation of sediment from the dams could be substantial below Iron Gate Dam downstream to Willow Creek, with up to 5 feet of deposition within 0.5 miles downstream of the dam, to 1.5 feet of deposition near Willow Creek.” Downstream impacts of sediment are a significant concern, so alternate options such as dredging may also need to be more seriously considered.

4) Lynch disagrees with my concerns that the released sediments may be harmful to fish, and may have a significant impact for 1-2 years. The draft EIS/EIR states, “[T]he short-term (<2 years following dam removal) increases in SSCs [suspended sediment] in the lower Klamath River and the Klamath Estuary would be a significant impact.” Water quality and reservoir sedimentation in the Klamath Basin are very complex issues. While a 2011 Department of Interior report did show that the reservoir sediments have toxic elements below most guidelines, the upper basin is well known to have water and sediment quality issues, and these sediments are being deposited in the reservoirs. A 2006 PacifiCorp study concludes that the absence of the project reservoirs would exacerbate water quality impairment by reducing dissolved oxygen and promoting growth of algae. Water quality issues above the PacifiCorp dams may be among the most significant risks to successful river restoration; these water quality issues should be mitigated prior to dam removal.

5) Finally, Lynch objects to my statement that nonnative coho salmon were introduced in the Klamath starting in 1895. A 2002 California Department of Fish and Game report confirms my statement and further indicates that “historically, the practice of importing non-native fish was common.” The draft EIS/EIR also states that “the vast majority of coho salmon that spawn in the Klamath Basin are believed to be of hatchery origin, although the percentage varies among years.” Based on the century-long history of nonnative salmon transfers and hatchery origin fish, it would be tough to identify a truly native wild Klamath coho. Nonetheless, it is the law to protect them.

The outcomes of dam removal on this scale and in this unique environment have significant risks and uncertainties. A positive outcome is not guaranteed and a tragic outcome is possible. There are several innovative and economical solutions to meet the Klamath Basin goals that are not being actively considered because they fall outside the politics of the Klamath agreements. It is in the public trust, and a duty of scientific integrity to seriously consider these alternatives. My goal is to make sure that decision makers are aware of these risks and uncertainties, and account for them in their decision-making process. By only reporting the positive aspects of dam removal without the uncertainties and additional needed mitigation, the meaning of the science is perturbed, which may lead to poor decisions.

 

Dr. Paul R. Houser is a hydrologist and former scientific adviser to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

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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