Removal of four dams along the Klamath River — J.C. Boyle, Copco 1 and 2, and Iron Gate Dam — by non-profit Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC), will need to be paired with a long-term agreement in order to solve long-term water quality issues for the Klamath River.
That is, both during and after dam removal, according to Dave Meurer, newly appointed community liaison for KRRC for Klamath, Siskiyou and Humboldt counties.
Dam removal is slated to start as early as 2020, pending approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), according to Meurer, and he confirmed it’s likely that fish could die as sediment flows downstream.
Meurer is confident that the dams will be removed, looking at past backing by the states of Oregon and California, and PacifiCorp, the owner of the hydroelectric dams, as well as the Departments of Interior and Commerce.
“If I did not believe this was happening and that dam removal was a certainty, I would not have recently quit my job and joined this organization,” Meurer said. “I am highly convinced that this is moving forward.”
FERC still needs to sign off on the project, Meurer said.
KRRC has hired Los Angeles-based AECOM, which Meurer called a “gargantuan” firm known world-wide for dam removal.
“The short-term, it’s going to hammer the river pretty hard,” Meurer said. “There’s going to be a lot of sediment moving through the system that is not friendly to fish. But all the fishery’s biologists and agencies that weighed in on this said this would be a short-term hit for a very long-term gain.
“There would be an unavoidable impact,” Meurer added. “But they’re going to try to do this sediment release during the time that is going to be least damaging to the fishery. So we are going to be aiming for that very specific window precisely to minimize, avoid as much as possible, impacts to key species of fish.”
If fish are not prospering, then everybody pays a price, Meurer said.
“I still see the Basin farmers being in a highly vulnerable position from a regulatory and legal point of view because of fish Endangered Species Act (ESA) issues, water quality issues. So this attempt by KRRC to restore the river, restore the fishery is also an attempt to bring long-term stability and prosperity to the region, and that includes the ag economy.
“We’ve been lurching from ESA crisis to ESA crisis for too long and I understand there are concerns people have about is the water too impaired.”
Anticipated water quality issues for the Klamath River are what make this project trickier than other dam removal projects, according to Meurer.
“In this case, we have some really difficult water quality problems,” Meurer said. “There are already enormous efforts underway to improve water quality and there are a lot of restoration efforts.
“Dam removal; it will take care of the blue green algae issue,” he emphasized. “It will make a difference in C. Shasta disease. The dam removal piece doesn’t complete the water quality requirements that are going to be needed to get the Klamath from being a sick patient back into being healthy.”
Meurer said KRRC officials are aware that dam removal in and of itself is not a complete solution but a necessary step in process to address concerns, both short and longterm.
“(KRRC) … they’re fully cognizant that they’re has to be a phase II or else this would really not be successful,” Meurer said.
“Dam removal in and of itself does not really resolve some really key water quality issues. There will have to be some other agreement going forward,” Meurer added. “There will have to be something, probably at the congressional level that will require appropriations.”
He said KRRC echoes the belief that more beyond dam removal is needed as a long-term solution.
“Although this is a very large and ambitious program, it is not unprecedented to perform a dam removal and then see a positive response from the fishery,” Meurer said.
Meurer detailed that dam removal, for which there hasn’t been a determined start date, will be a slow and carefully controlled draining process that would likely take place in the months of January and February. Meurer said he couldn’t specify a year but said, following the “draw down” of water from the dam.
An estimated 15-20 million cubic yards of “very fine” sediment could wash down the river and into the Pacific Ocean, according to Meurer.
“There’s a lot of sediment built up behind the dams and when they start start drawing down the dams, that sediment is going to be transported downstream,” Meurer said.
Meurer said that left-over sediment would make up the riverbank, which would return to a naturally vegetative state.
Meurer said KRRC believes any concerns about the contents of the sediment are diminished by a letter the non-profit received from the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The trajectory we’re on right now is not good,” Meurer said, in comparison. We are very close to extinction frankly on Spring Chinook and numbers are down on the fall run 10 percent of historic numbers. The trajectory has to change, and that is the goal of this project.
Benefits of dam removal will make an impact as well, according to Meurer.
“You’re going to get rid of that ongoing seasonal toxic algae bloom that happens behind some reservoirs,” Meurer said. “That’s a chronic issue. That water becomes dangerous, not just for fish, but for people, and you don’t want to let your dog jump in the river either.”
Admittedly not a biologist or fisheries expert, Meurer said ample research backs the need for dam removal.
“An enormous amount of work has gone into researching this before proceeding and there is a pretty deep scientific consensus that you can make a lot of difference with this project,” Meurer said. “And it begins with the work that KRRC is performing.”