View Full Version : Are we dammed or not?

Ought Six
09-29-2009, 06:34 PM
Water interests argue new state dam proposals (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/09/28/MNRO19SUMN.DTL&tsp=1)

Kelly Zito
The San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thirty years ago, a chunk of chain, an eyebolt and Mark Dubois helped end the era of big dam building in California.

Dubois, a bearded, 6-foot-8, 30-year-old river guide from Sacramento, chained himself to a rocky outcropping on the north bank of the Stanislaus River and stayed there for a week, determined to prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from filling the canyons behind New Melones Dam and submerging the limestone caves, verdant meadows and petroglyphs of the river valley.

Dubois lost that fight: New Melones had been approved in the 1940s and was well under way when he and the nascent Friends of the River got involved. But he and hundreds of others who celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Stanislaus Campaign next month believe their work is echoing through a new generation as another dam debate emerges in California.

"We didn't win 30 years ago, but the world has changed," Dubois said in a telephone interview from his home on Bainbridge Island in Washington state. "Even though (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) is pushing these dams, people know they don't make sense."

As California grapples with an aging water-delivery network, growing population, worsening water quality, a drought and the potentially far-reaching effects of global climate change, dams are again on the table.

Last month Schwarzenegger insisted he would not sign off on any major overhaul of the water system without money for new dams and reservoirs.

The governor has the support of conservatives and the vast Central Valley, where many farmers are convinced that new, man-made lakes will help offset dry spells and ease the federal rulings that have cut water pumped through the ailing Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

A costly option

But environmentalists and their liberal backers contend dams are a costly, ecologically dicey option set against the backdrop of California's unprecedented budget cuts and alarms over the decline of fisheries, waterways and water quality.

By most accounts, New Melones was not the boon promised. When federal engineers studied the project, they far overestimated the water supply and underestimated demand. As a result, for years much of the water has gone to flush out the delta and to fulfill contracts in Stockton and elsewhere; little went to local water suppliers.

"It wasn't surprising to us at all," said Steve Evans, conservation director at Friends of the River. "New Melones was a project looking for a purpose."

Memories die hard

The several dams under consideration do not have quite the same scenic or recreational pull as the Stanislaus River. But memories of landscapes lost behind dams die hard. River advocates point to the flooding of picturesque Hetch Hetchy Valley for San Francisco's water interests and Friant Dam's catastrophic effect on salmon in the San Joaquin River.

Dams "make sense if you don't care about taking care of the natural world," according to Ronald Stork, senior policy advocate for Friends of the River.

These days, however, the debate has shifted to the economics of dam building.

California already has upward of 1,000 dams that provide water supply, flood control and hydropower - built on the most productive and accessible sites, experts say. Each time another dam is added to a river, billions are spent and the water supplied is minimal.

"We have to look further than this reflexive, historical impulse that says building dams will solve all our problems," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. "It's not true. Water recycling, conservation, efficiency... dwarf the amount of water we could get through any (reservoirs) we build."

Reasonable compromise

Conservatives and their supporters however, think they've forged a reasonable compromise that, though expensive, will add an important tool for managing the state's water system.

"The magnitude of the problem is so enormous that we can't afford to say no to one solution," said Chris Scheuring, environmental attorney for the California Farm Bureau.

Scheuring's group and others stand behind three big projects they argue would not inflict the environmental harm of past dams: The expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County, the Temperance Flat dam on the San Joaquin River above Friant Dam, and Sites Reservoir, which would flood the Antelope Valley in Colusa County.

The $3.8 billion Sites proposal, in particular, marks a departure from the norm because it is an off-stream reservoir that does not obstruct a river. Through canals connected to the Sacramento River, the Department of Water Resources says, water would be pumped into the lake where it would be used to supplement flows into the delta or allow deeper, colder reservoirs to hold back water for critical salmon runs.

Reservoir supporters say Sites presents the best of all worlds. And they seem determined to ensure that Sites and similar projects make it into any water legislation package.

"We're not going to approve another water bond package for billions that haven't improved water reliability," said state Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto. "These are not high dams on wild and scenic rivers. We're talking about a very responsible approach."

Not worth it?

Peter Gleick, president of Oakland's Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan water think tank, acknowledges that Sites or Temperance Flat could add a certain amount of flexibility to the system. But, he says, that slight improvement simply isn't worth the economic, environmental and political cost.

"Many of dams we built in the last century brought us great benefit," Gleick said. "But I think the era of new dams is over in California."

E-mail Kelly Zito at [email protected]

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Obama Administration Orders Study on Removing Dams on Snake River to Help Fish (http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/54625)

By Adam Brickley
CNS News
Monday, September 28, 2009

The Obama administration has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct studies on the possibility of removing four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River in Washington state in order to “protect” 13 species of salmon on the federal endangered species list.

The studies were part of a new “Adaptive Management Implementation Plan” created by a coalition of nine government agencies (which calls itself “the Federal Caucus”) that manages the salmon population in the Columbia River basin. The plan aims at trying to reverse a decline in the salmon population in the Pacific Northwest.

The plan (or “biological opinion”), which was submitted to a federal court judge in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 15, is a revised version of a plan originally developed by the Bush administration. It explicitly raises the possibility of breaching the four hydropower dams on the Snake River in order to “save” salmon populations. The Bush-era plan did not recommend destroying dams.

In May, U.S. District Judge James Redden had directed the agencies to tear up their previous plan and submit another. Redden has been critical of past plans, dating back as far as the Clinton administration, because they did not consider the possibility of removing the dams.

Wild salmon swim from the ocean up the Columbia River and its tributaries in order to spawn, but are blocked from reaching those grounds by the series of dams, according to a lawsuit that was filed by the National Wildlife Federation, the Nez Perce Indian tribe and the state of Oregon against the Federal Columbia River Power System and the Bonneville Power Administration.

The envronmentalists and the state have been trying to force the government-run agencies to allow more water to “spill” over the dams to protect the salmon runs.

The Army Corps of Engineers “study plan” for blowing up dams on the Lower Snake River must be conducted by March 2010. According to Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Nola Leyde, it will lay out the scope of the project, a proposed schedule and a budget to complete subsequent technical studies.

“The study basically lays a roadmap for (what it will take) if breaching was a trigger that was hit,” Leyde said. “It doesn’t actually look at how you would do it or what you would do. What it does is it looks at how, it’s more of a process, how you would get to that process, because there are decisions that would need to be made by Congress -- and Congress would have to authorize.

“You’d be looking at everything from environmental impacts to impacts on species in the area, economic impacts, water quality, sediment,” she added.

Leyde noted that the Corps had previously examined dam-breaching in a 2002 study titled “Improving Salmon Passage," which found that dam removal was unnecessary.

“The bottom line on it was that NOAA Fisheries said it wasn’t necessary to breach the dams to recover the (salmon) stock,” she said.

In addition, she said, the previous study had concluded that there were “certainties in the problems that it could cause for fish.’

NOAA has also been ordered to study dam removal.

“By December 2012,” the plan says, “NOAA Fisheries, in coordination with the Action Agencies will develop a life-cycle model . . . for evaluation of the short-term, transitional and long-term biological effects of dam-breaching.”

Asked what such a study would entail, NOAA Fisheries spokesman Brain Gorman told CNSNews.com simply, “I have no idea.”

He added: “I’m under the impression that, first, the Corps of Engineers would do sort of a broad paper on what a study would look like.”

Gorman noted that an in-depth study of dam breaching would only be conducted if there is a “compelling reason to do it” – that is, no other option halts the decline in salmon population.

Opponents of dam-breaching want it left off the table entirely, while proponents of dam removal say that blowing up the dams should be more than a “contingency of last resort.”

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) opposes dam removal.

“I’m concerned that, bottom line, this administration decided to put dams on the table,” she told CNSNews.com, “and there have been some extreme environmental organizations that have been advocating for years that these dams be removed, and now they have an opening to continue to advocate for the dam removal.”

Terry Flores, executive director of the anti-breaching group Northwest RiverPartners, also disapproves of the government’s decision.

“We’re disappointed that this administration has put it back on the table, even for discussion,” she told CNSNews.com

“Dam breaching, by just keeping it on the table, even as a contingency, fires up folks whose only agenda is dam removal, and it really distracts the whole region from being able to, you know, put a hundred percent of its effort into implementing this plan,” Flores told CNSNews.com.

Michael Garrity, Washington state conservation director for the pro-dam-busting group American Rivers, disagreed. He doesn’t think the new plan goes far enough.

“We think removing the four lower Snake River dams (is) the most elegant solution to getting big numbers of fish back to the Columbia basin,” Garrity told CNSNews.com.

When asked about the effects of dam removal on the electricity supply, Garrity said: “It’s replaceable. It’s actually only about 3 or 4 percent of the system’s generation, and . . . the bulk of the energy that those four dams produce tends to come at times of year when there is surplus (energy) -- it’s sold at not real high prices to outside of the region, because the region doesn’t tend to need it when that electricity is generated.”

“It’s disappointing to see the Obama administration defending a plan with such weak standards,” Garrity said.

Congresswoman McMorris-Rodgers disputed the idea the energy provided by the dams was not needed or could be easily replaced.

“The four lower Snake River dams produce five percent of the hydropower in Washington state,” she claimed, “and if we breached these dams, it would take three nuclear plants, or six coal fired plants, or fourteen gas fired plants to provide the equal capacity.”

She also painted a brighter picture, saying that efforts already underway to improve conditions for salmon were actually working.

“We’ve seen where salmon and dams can coexist,” she said. “The salmon runs on both the Snake River and the Columbia River are up.”

Ought Six
09-30-2009, 06:49 PM
Utility agrees to removal of 4 Klamath River dams (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-klamath30-2009sep30,0,3525101.story)

It won't happen until after 2020, but is seen as vital to restoring California's dwindling salmon
stocks. The decommissioning would be the nation's largest and most complex dam removal project.

By Bettina Boxall
The Los Angeles Times
September 30, 2009

In a major boost for California's dwindling salmon stocks, a utility company has agreed to the removal of four hydroelectric dams that for decades have blocked fish migrations on one of the West Coast's most important salmon rivers.

The dam decommissioning is vital to restoring the Klamath River, which for years has been the subject of bitter feuding among farmers, fishermen and tribal interests.

It would open historic salmon spawning and rearing grounds on the upper reaches of the river, which winds from southern Oregon through the Cascades and Coast Ranges to California's Pacific Coast.

"We can't restore the river solely by removing the dams, but we can't restore the Klamath without removing the dams," said Steve Rothert of the environmental group American Rivers, one of 29 parties negotiating the dam settlement.

Backers say the decommissioning -- which still must be approved by the federal government -- would be the nation's largest and most complex dam removal project.

"We're about to make changes to the Klamath Basin that will be observable from space," said Craig Tucker of the Karuk tribe, which traditionally fished for salmon.

For PacifiCorp, the Portland, Ore., utility that owns the dams, consenting to the end of the J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1 and 2 and Iron Gate dams ultimately was a business decision.

The utility, a subsidiary of billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway empire, faced litigation and expensive relicensing requirements for the dams, the oldest of which dates to 1918.

"As a utility, we don't typically take dams out," said Dean Brockbank, PacifiCorp's lead negotiator. "We have achieved an agreement that is in the best interest of our customers -- the lowest cost and risk compared to the alternative."

Under the draft settlement, which the parties hope to sign by the end of the year, PacifiCorp would continue to operate the dams until 2020. Then they would transfer the hydropower facilities to another entity, likely the federal government, for dismantling.

The Interior Department has to make a determination that the dams' removal will be in the public interest, a sign-off that Brockbank said is not guaranteed but that the company expects to get.

"This agreement marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Klamath River and for the communities whose health and way of life depend on it," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

The settlement terms call for PacifiCorp ratepayers in Oregon and California to pay a surcharge to finance a company contribution of up to $200 million for dam removal and river restoration. California also would provide as much as $250 million in bond money.

"We're hopeful this will result in dam removal, but a number of things have to occur before that can happen," said Kirk Miller, deputy secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. "It is a complicated matter."

The dams, which range in height from 33 feet to 173 feet and are spread across 65 miles of the Klamath, haven't just kept chinook and coho salmon out of the upper river and its tributaries. They also have hurt water quality.

In the summer, stagnant pools of warm water behind the dams become a breeding ground for toxic algae.

The Klamath Basin made national headlines early this decade when federal water managers cut irrigation deliveries to preserve fish flows, sparking protests from irate farmers. The following year, when more water was released to agriculture, tens of thousands of salmon died, floating in the river's shallow waters and washing up on its banks.

"We are redefining what restoration and collaboration means in a place that has historically been the West's most notorious watershed for lawsuits, civil strife, guns in public," said Chuck Bonham of Trout Unlimited, an environmental group that works to preserve fish habitat.

Along with the Columbia and the Sacramento rivers, the Klamath has traditionally been one of the country's most productive salmon rivers. But the West Coast salmon stocks have been in such poor shape that for the last three years, California has canceled its commercial salmon fishing season.

The Klamath has "been dammed and polluted nearly to death," said Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Assns.

The dam settlement follows an earlier restoration agreement that also is due to be signed by the end of the year.

The restoration proposal has come under fire from some environmental groups that complain it preserves irrigation deliveries for Klamath Basin farms at the expense of fish and also allows continued farming in wildlife refuges with critical wetlands.

"Dam removal is still tied to this albatross," said Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild.

Jeffrey Mount, founding director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and a member of the American Rivers board, warned that tearing down the dams would not solve all of the Klamath's water quality problems.

"There is this assumption that a miracle will occur when the dams come down," he said. "Removal of the dams does not address the broader problems of the basin."

He described Upper Klamath Lake, which feeds the river, as a "big, warm, green pile of goo" that could make things worse for the fish once the dams are gone.

Still, he added, "This is incredibly exciting."

[email protected]