The push for dam removal was persistent at a second Klamath Dam hearing set up by the State Water Board on Wednesday evening. It’s part of their three part comment period public meetings on the North Coast—which took place in Yreka, Arcata and is scheduled for Orleans. The project is officially known as the Lower Klamath Project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The public comment period is discussing the Draft Environmental Information Report which was first issued in June 2018.
In Arcata, a large group of activists, tribal members and scientists filled the D Street Community Center to express their concerns on how long the removal process is taking. Michael Belchik, senior water policy analyst for the Yurok Tribe said he's spent the bulk of his tribal career focusing on this project.
“This would be the largest fish restoration project in the history of the world. I think personally, this is literally, about the 500th board meeting and maybe the hundredth public hearing I've been to," Belchik said. “It’s been a long road. When we started mentioning dam removal early on in the meetings we were literally laughed out of the room with PacifiCore. I’ve been working on this 24 years and I've seen the next generation of young, native leaders coming in. It's time to take these dams out and then manage this as a free flowing river system."
Other community members said they’re worried about the salmon habitat that has suffered multiple environmental issues. Vivian Helliwell with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Association used her public comment to emphasize the need for more local salmon, something that the dams prevent. She said we’re in a new era where we take better care of fish.
“They’ve encountered so much disease when they come back in from the bad water quality that we’ve been losing an incredible opportunity to stimulate the coastal economy and have healthy, local fish. Instead we have fish flown in from Alaska in our marketplace that people can’t even afford to eat,” Helliwell said and referred to those imported fish as ‘flying salmon’.
And while the studies on the Klamath Dams have taken 15 years, state and federal officials are confident that these public hearings will bring them closer to the final decision on the project.
Erin Ragazzi is with the State Water Board. They collect public comment from communities, which is required by the California Environmental Quality Act. After the comment period, which ends on February 26th, they plan to develop a Final Environmental Impact Report and a Final Water Quality Certification—both of which are needed to move forward.
“Once those are completed, they're submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and would become mandatory conditions that were included in the licensing surrender order for the Lower Klamath Project,” she said and also clarified why the project is taking longer than most would like.
Raggazzi said it’s because the Klamath Dams present very specific and complex issues. This includes a settlement process, known as the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, as well as the regular relicensing process prior to the settlement.
“So they require a lot of time with respect to analyzing the project, looking at the impacts and developing appropriate conditions. It does take a fair amount of time in order to complete that process," Ragazzi said.
While this is not the final step in removing the dams , it does move the process closer to completion. The four dams included in the Lower Klamath Project are J.C. Boyle in Oregon, Copco No. 1 and Copco No. 2 in California and Iron Gate, also in California.