Patrick Higgins: Settlements sidestep Klamath’s real problems

June 24, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

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Patrick Higgins: Settlements sidestep Klamath’s real problems

Staff Reports

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The June 11 “Speak Your Piece,” “Klamath science process is solid” by lead federal scientist Dennis Lynch, was almost pure Orwellian double-speak, which is the hallmark of the entire Klamath dam removal environmental review process. Lynch discredited arguments against dam removal recently advanced by whistle-blower Paul Houser, but did not refute Houser’s original allegations of the program’s misrepresentation of science.

The biggest deception of the Klamath dam removal process has been the government’s refusal to assess the cumulative effects of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. The government’s excuse was that the KBRA was not yet fully defined and that its effects would be analyzed later. The real reason? The effects of KBRA agricultural water use and 50 more years of industrial farming on national wildlife refuges could not be mitigated or scientifically justified.

Lynch holds up the dam removal overview report as proof of the scientific validity of the Klamath dam removal process when it blatantly misrepresents science. For example, the overview report states that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “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 fish diseases 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.” In fact on April 22, 2010, less than 90 days after the KBRA was signed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service modified its biological opinion with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for Klamath Project operation to allow Tule Lake to be drawn down to a level that would not support the two listed sucker species.

Lynch lauds the independent scientific review by expert panels, but their findings were obscured or ignored. The government repeatedly selects the same quote as representative of the Chinook Expert Panel: “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.” In fact the Chinook Expert Panel stated that KBRA nutrient reduction efforts were likely insufficient to reverse problems in the Keno Reservoir reach of the Klamath River, which is currently an anoxic dead-zone for weeks a year. Consequently, even if dams were removed, chinook salmon adults and juveniles could not survive passage.

Acute water quality problems and devastating fish disease epidemics in the lower Klamath River are a result of an ecological imbalance brought on by conversion of 80 percent of the lakes and wetlands of the Upper Klamath Basin to agriculture. Provisions within the KBRA guaranteeing 320,000 acre-feet of water to the Klamath Project and continued leases for industrial agriculture of 20,000 acres of Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges prevent abatement of water pollution. In addition, providing tens of millions of dollars to subsidize power costs for Klamath Project irrigators so they can maintain their agricultural operations in the high desert in the face of climate change is not a rational public policy.

Klamath Hydroelectric Project dams need to be taken down because they cause irremediable water quality problems, including toxic algae, but their removal should come through the FERC relicensing process. Fish ladders mandated by the National Marine Fisheries Service costing $240 million render the dams uneconomic and will trigger abandonment and decommissioning by PacifiCorp. In addition, the California State Water Resources Control Board will likely block dam relicensing by refusing to issue Clean Water Act certification because pollution caused by reservoirs cannot be remedied without dam removal. If the Klamath River is ultimately to be saved, legislation taking an ecological restoration approach similar to that being attempted for the Everglades will be necessary because it is the only scientifically valid solution. For more information, see


Patrick Higgins, a consulting fisheries biologist, recently analyzed Klamath dam removal environmental documents for Indian tribes that are not parties to the settlements.

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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