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21 June
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Dr. Houser responds to Lynch letter in local paper

Klamath Science-Informed Decision Making Process Needs Improvement

Dr. Paul R. Houser, 20 June 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 publically about it in May 2012.  I was confronted with a very wide range of questions, where I carefully offered my opinion or relevant information. Last week Mr. Dennis Lynch  (USGS) questioned some of this information. Below I summarize the rationale for my comments, and offer some additional perspective (full text available at http://prhouser.com/houser/?p=830).

1)      Mr. 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.

4)      Mr. 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 Mr. Koshy along with the relevant engineering analyses.

5)      Mr. 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.

6)      Mr. 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 “…the 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 DOI 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 amongst the most significant risks to successful river restoration; these water quality issues should be mitigated prior to dam removal.

7)      Finally, Mr. Lynch objects to my statement that nonnative coho salmon were introduced in the Klamath starting in 1895.  A California Department of Fish and Game’s 2002 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.  None-the less, 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 with over 25 years of experience. 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. More information can be found at http://www.prhouser.com.

 
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