A massive water bond developed by state legislators for the November 2010 election presents a conundrum for supporters of removing the Klamath River's dams.
In the $11.1 billion bond measure is $250 million that would satisfy California's portion of funding to remove four dams on the Klamath.
The legislative package passed Wednesday contains provisions for water conservation and even groundwater monitoring -- elements that could drastically change the state's notorious water policies. But the lion's share of the bond money, if approved by voters, would go toward new dams, water projects and development of a peripheral canal to pump water around the Sacramento River delta to cities and farms to the south.
Serious concerns are being voiced by Northern California river advocates that the bill loosens restrictions on water transfers in the Central Valley Project -- CVP -- that could tap cold water supplies in Trinity Lake, Shasta Lake and Folsom Reservoir.
That puts Klamath Dam removal proponents in the position of supporting a bill that could harm the Klamath's main tributary, the Trinity River, and its fisheries.
”We don't want to rob Peter to pay Paul,” said Craig Tucker, Klamath campaign coordinator for the Karuk Tribe.
A draft agreement reached among 28 agencies, tribes, and fishing and environmental groups to remove the Klamath's four hydroelectric dams was released in September. The organizations' governing bodies are now reviewing the deal, which calls for California to put up $250 million, to be added to $200 million from electricity ratepayers in Oregon, for dam removal costs.
Dam owner Pacificorp has agreed to give up the dams and transfer them to a federal agency for dam removal beginning in 2020. The dams block migration of salmon to the upper 300 miles of the Klamath River and its tributaries and its reservoirs have severe water quality problems.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is asking the State Water Resources Control Board for extensions of its water permits on the Trinity River and other Central Valley rivers. But it doesn't include in its application restrictions on water diversions to the Sacramento River called for in a 2000 U.S. Interior Secretary's order to improve conditions for salmon and steelhead.
Tom Stokely with the California Water Impact Network wrote in a letter to federal and state legislators this week that the legislative package just approved could make more Trinity River water available for transfer to other parts of the state -- water needed for fish.
”This appears to be another effort by the CVP water contractors to wring every last drop of water from CVP reservoirs that they can't currently get their hands on,” Stokely wrote.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has also taken notice of Reclamation's water permit applications. In a response to them, NMFS wrote that the petitions call for much lower flows to the Trinity River than allowed under the 2000 decision, which could breach temperature restrictions.
Concerns about the legislative package's possible effects on Northern California prompted Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro to vote against the bills.
”In an era of drought and climate change, California should be maximizing water recycling, reuse and restoration as the pathway to solving our water problems,” the Arcata Democrat said. “Despite efforts to make it better, this legislation only puts off the day of reckoning when we will be forced to radically change the way we use water in California.”
The enormity of the bond alone is also likely to generate opposition from a wide range of interests. Spreck Rosekrans with the Environmental Defense Fund said that his group supported the bills, which he said contain measures to secure water for farms and cities while finally requiring the monitoring of groundwater. But the organization has not taken a position on the bond.
”The voters of California will have to decide whether it's something California can afford,” Rosekrans said, “and whether it's good policy to put $11 billion into these projects.”
He said that there will likely be other opportunities to seek money to remove the Klamath River's dams if the bond fails in November.
The September agreement does not require that signatories of a final dam removal deal support a bond measure, but some are concerned that there may not be another good opportunity to introduce money for Klamath dam removal any time soon.
John Driscoll can be reached at 441-0504 or firstname.lastname@example.org.