RiverCurrents: July 6, 2001
In the news this week...
* ALL ABOUT DAMS
-- Dam Removal Across the Country
-- Auburn Dam
* LEGILATION WORKING FOR RIVERS
-- Mississippi River
-- Mississippi AND Missouri Rivers
-- Minnesota River
* NW SALMON
-- Farmers and Fish competing in the Klamath River Basin
-- Bonneville Spilling No More
* COEUR D'ALENE RIVER BASIN
-- Cleaning up the Coeur d'Alene
1. Dam Removal Across the Country
As Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence realized, damming rivers has unfortunate consequences and that sometimes removing them is the best thing to do. During a debate in 1816 over navigation in the infant nation, dam owner Jefferson wrote, "I am ready to cut my dam in any place, and at any moment requisite, so as to remove that impediment, if it be thought one, and to leave those interested to make the most of the natural circumstances of the place."
175 years after Jefferson's death on July 4th, 1826, dam removal is a river restoration tool that is picking up steam. Almost 40 dams in 9 states are scheduled for removal in 2001. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have the largest number of removals planned for this summer and fall - each state with more than 10 obsolete or unsafe dams coming out. California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Washington, will also remove one or more dams.
Communities often don't realize the negative impacts that dams have on rivers and are pleasantly surprised by the benefits that can result when dams are removed," said Elizabeth Maclin, who helps communities remove dams that do more harm than good as Associate Director of American Rivers' Dam Program. Dams provide many community benefits, but they come at a price - drowning valuable habitat under reservoirs, blocking the annual migrations of fish, and creating downstream conditions inhospitable for fish and wildlife. Communities that choose to restore their rivers by pulling out dams that no longer make sense can enjoy a number of benefits-reduced liability and upkeep expenses, improving water quality and fishing opportunities, and recovering habitat that is attractive for wildlife and parks.
For a list of rivers with dams scheduled for removal this year, please follow this link: http://www.amrivers.org/pressrelease/damremovals6.29.01.htm
2. Auburn Dam
A controversial provision of the House FY '02 energy and water appropriations bill that would have provided for a new study of the Auburn Dam on the American River in California was struck before the bill was voted on. The withdrawal of the Auburn dam measure, which had been backed by Rep. John Doolittle (D-CA), clears the way for the August completion of an Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study on addressing flood control concerns by raising the existing Folsom dam.
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3. Flood Assistance on the Mississippi
Representative Ron Kind (D) of Wisconsin has announced that he will be pushing for a funding boost to the network that helps the National Weather Service warn downriver communities days in advance of flooding, and for the creation of more wetlands - a move in response to severe regional flooding earlier this spring. As reports the La Crosse Tribune (7/3/01), Kind's western Wisconsin district borders more miles of the Mississippi River than any other district in the nation.
Kind recently met with Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh asking for more than additional construction of dikes to hold water back. Instead, he pushed for an increase in wetland spillover areas, saying that dikes merely push the problem further south. Currently, relocation payments make up 15 percent of FEMA's disaster budget -- Kind is pushing the Flood Loss Reduction Act that would boost those relocation payments to 25 percent of FEMA's budget.
4. Flow on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers looking good for wildlife
The full House passed the energy and water bill last week without removing another rider, inserted by Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA), that would prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from revising Missouri and Mississippi river operations to benefit wildlife. The environmental community adamantly opposes this rider, and plans to target it when the Senate and House negotiate over the final energy and water bill. Conservationists argue that allowing a more natural seasonal rise and fall of water levels would not prevent traditional uses of the rivers or their floodplains, but that it is critical to the survival of several endangered species, including the pallid sturgeon, piping plover, and interior least tern. To encourage the Army Corps to revise its operation of Missouri River dams, American Rivers listed the Missouri as its number one Most Endangered River this year.
MOST ENDANGERED RIVERS!
We are currently accepting nominations for the Most Endangered Rivers of 2002 report. Find out how you can nominate your river for the 2002 list! Check out: http://www.amrivers.org/mostendangered/2002nominations.htm for more information.
5. Farmlands and the Minnesota River
Minnesota state's bonding bill was passed last weekend, which will pave the way for the state to move ahead with the Minnesota River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Known as CREP, the program is a "combined state and federal program that pays landowners in the Minnesota River basin to take marginal cropland out of production as a way to improve water quality and wildlife habitat." The program has a target goal of enrolling 100,000 acres. As reports the CREP Coalition (7/2/01), the bonding bill contained an appropriation of $51.4 million for CREP, which will qualify the state to fully match the $163 million in federal money available for the program.
6. Farmers and Fish competing in the Klamath River Basin
This week the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation closed a headgate that had been spilling water reserved for threatened and endangered fish into an irrigation canal after the Klamath Irrigation District refused to do so. Apparently since last Friday, the headgate had been allowing water to flow out of Upper Klamath Lake into the "A" Canal of the Klamath Project, though no one knows at this time who climbed the 6 foot fence topped with barbed wire and opened the headgate. And, says the Bureau, there will be no investigation into who opened the gate. The amount of water that flowed out of Upper Klamath Lake over the three days the gate was open (about 300 acre feet) will not have a significant impact on the endangered suckers there, and will also make little difference to anyone's crops, says Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Jeff McCracken.
As reports the LA Times (7/3/01), "faced with severe drought and new findings by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how much water was needed by endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River, the bureau had no water this year for 90% of the 240,000 acres served by the Klamath Project." Without the water they need, farmers in the area have been forced to sell cattle, let pastures and hay fields go brown, and give up annual plantings of potatoes, grain and other crops, according to the Times. Vice President Dick Cheney sympathizes with the farmers and said that the sucker fish should not be given priority over the livelihood of Klamath Basin farmers, who are having to do without irrigation water under a federal law, reports the San Francisco Chronicle Online (7/3/01).
Following the incident, Klamath County commissioners refused the demands by angry farmers this week that they enact an ordinance giving them "legal cover for breaking into a federal irrigation project and diverting water from endangered fish to their parched fields." Offering a petition with 2,000 signatures supporting the requested ordinance, about 75 people met with the commissioners asking that legal protection be given to anyone engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience against the federal government to restore irrigation water to the Klamath Project. However, Commissioner Al Switzer said the ordinance would be worthless since efforts elsewhere to assert county authority over the federal government all have been struck down by federal courts, reports the Spokesman Review (7/6/01)
7. Bonneville Spilling No More
Not only has the Bonneville Power Administration announced that it is raising wholesale power rates 46 percent in October, but the agency has also said that it intends to spill no more water this summer over dams to aid salmon in their migration to the sea. As reports the Seattle Times (6/30/01), the decision was made in response to the low water supply in the region. When water is spilled over the dams to assist fish migration, it does not go through turbines to generate electricity.
As Jeff Curtis, Western Conservation Director for Trout Unlimited in Portland, said "They are all patting each other on the back like everything is rosy again in the Northwest - boy, oh boy, everything is going to be dandy. The aluminum workers are paid off. The investor-owned utilities got a deal. They made everyone whole but the salmon. Fish didn't even come up. I thought it was offensive." Tribes were also infuriated but not surprised that the spill would be ended.
8. Cleaning up the Coeur d'Alene
The EPA has delayed the release of the proposed draft cleanup plan for the Coeur d'Alene River Basin for at least two months, reports the agency. Saying that they need the time to speak with specific communities about what might be proposed, the agency's move will likely postpone the release of the final plan for metals contamination cleanup efforts from Mullan to Lake Roosevelt until January 2002. The Spokesman Review (7/6/01) reports that officials hope the delay would give them "more time to craft a plan that would be acceptable to all interested parties, from local and state governments to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and area residents."
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