The Official Blog of the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC)

 

What's The Dam Difference?

Posted by admin on May 16, 2017

by James Peterson

The Colorado River stretches from areas of Wyoming to its terminus in the Sea of Cortez, a distance of over 1,450 miles.  Hoover Dam was officially christened and open for business in 1936, approximately 30 miles south east of Las Vegas, to use the Colorado’s flow for power and to deliver significant amounts of water to the dry Southwestern United States. This was the first dam constructed along the Colorado River and at the time, was the largest man made structure in the world.  Glen Canyon Dam Map.jpg

The dam stretches up over 700 feet from the river bottom and creates a reservoir that floods 110 miles of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Engineering and construction of Hoover dam marked the beginning of an unprecedented dam building flurry in the United States unlike the world had ever seen before. The new government agency in charge of taming the Wests wild rivers was the Bureau of Reclamation. Hundreds of dams were built across the West along many of its mightiest rivers and each engineer seemed to want to outdo all others. Shasta Dam, Grand Coulee and Bonneville are a few names that most people living out West have heard of.

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Then, in 1956, construction on the Glen Canyon Dam began. This would be the dam that brought the Colorado into total control of mankind, but, while this dam created a staggering amount of new hydroelectric power, its placement came at a steep price. The dam drowned Glen Canyon beneath a 186-mile-long reservoir.  Many considered this section of the Colorado River canyon to be the Sistine Chapel of canyon country, rivaling anything within Grand Canyon National Park. The BOR and its director Floyd Dominy were also planning to build two other dams inside the heart of Grand Canyon National Park (Marble Canyon Dam and Bridge Canyon Dam) but the public outrage was so great after Glen Canyon that these projects were abandoned in order to finance the Central Arizona Project.Grand Canyon Map.jpg

I recently returned from my second rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. We departed from Lee’s Ferry (just a few miles below Glen Canyon Dam) and ended inside the Lake Meade Reservoir behind Hoover Dam. The last 80 miles of this trip are spent floating the reservoir. Our guide book described the rapids and canyons that we were passing over but all we saw were flat stretches of water and large, sometimes 20-foot-tall, walls of sediment along each side of the river.  During this long and slow part of the trip, I had a good amount of time to imagine the features that were now buried under millions of tons of water, and come to the realization that within my lifetime I will never be able to see what lies beneath these now calmed waters of the Colorado. I will never understand how Major Wesley Powell felt on the third month of his first exploration of the Colorado River, when his expedition encountered yet another marble canyon where the walls close in and the roar of the river overwhelms your senses. 

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As a whitewater kayaking and rafting enthusiast, that is what dams like the ones that have tamed the Colorado River mean to me. They represent a loss of an adventure that could change one’s life and a loss of freedom that one can only feel when out in a distant wilderness.

Klamath Dams.jpgKlamath River Canyon.jpg

This brings me to my main point. With the Klamath Dams slated for removal beginning in 2020, an event that has been 25 years in the making could be just around the corner. If all four Klamath dams are removed, a section of river approximately 70 miles in length that has never been floated in its entirety will be opened for the first time in nearly one hundred years.  

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Instead of algae covered reservoirs, clean flowing water will again cascade through the landscape and a new river trip of epic proportions will be accessible to any who are willing. Outdoor enthusiasts will now be able to tie together the upper and lower Klamath in ways that have not been possible for the past century. A wealth of multi-day trips will now be available along the Upper Klamath River, and, much like when PacifiCorp removed its Condit Dam along the White Salmon River in Washington, this part of the River could become one of the most popular stretches of rafting along the West Coast.

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While the Klamath River and the Colorado are vastly different river systems, they both exemplify the spirit of the wild that has drawn humans to their shores since the dawn of time, and the love of the “Great Unknown” remains the same for many who come. For “we are but pygmies, running up and down the sands or lost among the boulders," in the words of Wesley Powell.Hance Rapid.jpg

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James "Jimmy" Peterson is the Water Monitoring Coordinator at MKWC. He comes from Minnesota, and brings to the Middle Klamath a love for water and fish and a sense of stewardship for those resources that transcends borders. 

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Collaboration ≠ Compromise

Posted by admin on April 17, 2017

by Luna Latimer 

An incredible change unfolding in the Western Klamath Mountains needs to be celebrated. Five years ago the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) did not exist and trust was in short supply. Proposals like the Orleans Community Fuels Reduction Project stalled out in this environment. Through the WKRP process, the partners have bought into a process where we can build from our common ground, and in which none of us have to give up our values in order to work together. This is a truly collaborative process. “Collaboration” and “Compromise” are terms often confused. But the difference between these two terms is more than semantics. I think the difference between these two words is the reason for the difference in the two press releases for the OCFR project.

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Pictured above: At left, Karuk tribal members and concerned citizens blocked a logging road to halt work on the Orleans Community Fuels Reduction Project. At right, several years later, a group of Western Klamath Restoration Partnership participants celebrate work starting on the project with implementation by the Karuk Tribe and MKWC's crews. 

The  Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) launched a precedent-setting phase of the OCFR in 2016. The project is aimed at restoring forests while keeping local communities safe from uncontrolled wildfire. This is a new era for the OCFR - a project that had a rocky start in 2008. The press release last year was titled: Klamath communities collaborate to manage forests and work with fire. Five years ago, the press on this project on page 7 of the Karuk Tribe's newsletter: Karuk Takes on Forest Service: Orleans Community Fuels Reduction Plan Desecrates Sacred Areas.

When we compromise, we may get our needs partially met, but not completely. This is not the WKRP model of collaboration. At WKRP workshops and meetings, there is a culture of only moving forward if we are in agreement. People who work together in this process often say:  we “don’t have to give up an arm or a leg” to work together. This model of collaboration represents a breakthrough. So many of us that are working with WKRP on a day-to-day basis take this model of collaboration for granted. Other people may not understand how different this is than previous collaborative efforts on the Klamath. The WKRP seeks to build trust and a shared vision for restoring fire resilience at the landscape scale. There is good reason why these two items – trust and a shared vision – are put together. This Partnership has allowed diverse stakeholders to come together to accomplish work by identifying Zones of Agreement where all parties agree upslope restoration needs to occur. Together, we created a plan for restoring fire resilience at the landscape scale. 

Please be a part of this collaborative vision. You can subscribe to semi-monthly e-newsletters by emailing arielle@wkrp.network. You can see what is happening on Facebook. The WKRP website will be launching soon, and we’d love for you to browse through it and add your voice to the ongoing dialogue about how to bring good fire back to this place where it once had a major role to play in keeping our forests and communities healthy. 

Luna Latimer is a Director of the Mid Klamath Watershed Council. She has worked with MKWC since 2003 when she was doing graduate research with the Orleans/Somes Bar Fire Safe Council. She is a fifth generation forest worker from Southern Oregon and currently lives in Orleans, CA. She received a Master’s degree in Applied Anthropology from Oregon State University with a focus on forest restoration projects on private land within the middle Klamath. Luna works with private landowners, agencies, contractors and non-profit organizations to restore both upslope and in-stream ecosystems.

 

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The World According To Salmon

Posted by admin on July 18, 2016

by James Peterson

IMG_0143-COLLAGE.jpgIn the world according to salmon, the rivers and streams dictate their choices in life. If the flows are
high and the water is cold, they are more likely to be able to complete their life cycles and ensure the future of their species in their offspring. If the flows are low and the water is warm, their chances of successfully surviving to spawn become much more challenging. As many of us along the River know, most salmon species die after spawning, and from the time they return to fresh water, their journey towards their natal streams will be their lives terminus. Their sacrifice and determination is almost Shakespearean in its tragedy and beauty.

 After five years of intensive drought conditions, Northern California benefitted from a slight respite this year, and winter conditions were more along the lines of a normal weather pattern for this region. To give you an example of this, last year in mid-June (6/15/15) the Klamath River at Orleans was flowing at a rate of 2,250 cubic feet per second (CFS) and a temperature of 73 degrees Fahrenheit.  This year mid-June (6/15/16) the river is flowing at 3,870 CFS and a temperature of 63 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that in context, one cubic foot of water is roughly equivalent to one basketball full of water per second.  71 degrees Fahrenheit is the beginning of the stressful temperature range for juvenile salmonids and over 75 degrees can be lethal.

IMG_0563.JPGThe conditions this year are hands down a whole lot better than last year. For the past ten years, MKWC in partnership with the Karuk Tribal Fisheries Program, and various other state and federal agencies, have been constructing off-channel habitats along key tributaries to the Klamath River. Juvenile fish looking to escape high winter flows and stressful or even lethal summer temperature conditions in the Klamath River and its tributaries utilize these habitats in order to survive. Two of the newest constructed ponds along Middle Creek, a tributary to Horse Creek, have their first cohorts of juvenile coho salmon moving into them as creek flows begin to drop.

Many of these fish will stay in the ponds all summer and possibly even through next winter if they like the conditions. Fish utilizing these ponds have been shown to have a survival rate of two to six times higher than fish that don’t.  To date, MKWC has constructed 12 off-channel ponds throughout the Klamath basin and all of them have seen use by juvenile and sometimes adult coho salmon. Some ponds even hold several thousand juvenile fish during parts of the year. Some fish that were marked as juveniles in these ponds have returned several years later as adults and been detected spawning in areas along Seiad Creek, showing that these ponds are beginning to produce adult fish! By the summer of 2017, several more of these ponds will be constructed as safe havens for these determined little fish to shelter in.

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These habitats along the margins of a stream may not look like much to a casual onlooker, but when your whole world revolves around survival against steep odds, these side-channel sanctuaries can make a big difference, and in the world according to salmon, every little bit helps. 

Photo 1: Juvenile coho salmon rearing in ponds constructed along Middle Creek  6/7/2016.

Photo 2: Juvenile coho and Chinook in O’Neil Creek Pond. 

Photo 3: Goodman Pond constructed by MKWC in collaboration with the Karuk Tribe and other partners offers refuge from Middle Creek flows. 

Photo 4: O'Neil Creek Pond.

James "Jimmy" Peterson is the Water Monitoring Coordinator at MKWC. He comes from Minnesota, and brings to the Middle Klamath a love for water and fish and a sense of stewardship for those resources that transcends borders. 

 

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Why Solar Power is Bad For The Klamath Region

Posted by admin on June 11, 2016

by Luna Latimer

Ok, that headline is a cheap trick to get you to read about a controversial topic.

But seriously, have you googled “California and Biomass” recently?

One of the top results is an LA Times article titled: “Solar is in, Biomass energy is out.” The article goes on to explain that “The state's biomass energy plants are folding in rapid succession, unable to compete with heavily subsidized solar farms.” Let’s be honest with ourselves: even if solar power wasn’t subsidized, it would still be cheaper than biomass energy. But not all energy is created equal. Here’s the case for biomass energy, as I see it.

Biomass is fuel that is developed from organic materials, and used to create electricity or other forms of power, and it can offer a renewable and sustainable source of energy. In our area, biomass is usually generated using a forestry byproduct –materials that would otherwise be burned on site.

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What will be the fate of this pile on National Forest lands? Will it be burned on site or used to create energy independence? 

I know a lot of people living in the mid Klamath are off the grid and use hydro and/or solar power and batteries to produce their own power. In no way am I claiming that this power production is bad for the Klamath. Here on the River, I see a lot of solar panels on roofs where the power is being sold to PG&E at a rate between $0.03 to $0.04 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). That is cheap power. It also helps fill the PG&E requirement for renewable energy. Why would PG&E buy expensive biomass when it can fill its renewable quota with cheap solar power? They probably won’t.

We face a fire and fuel problem in the Klamath Mountains. Over a century of fire suppression and laws stopping prescribed burning has created a tinderbox around our communities. It is just a matter of time before these overly dense forests go up in smoke. I have a hard time viewing these trees as having sequestered carbon, as the fire reality we face makes the carbon seem pretty active, or ready to be released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gas emissions.

As groups like the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC), Karuk Tribe, Forest Service and Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) work to increase the pace, scale and quality of collaborative restoration of our forests, a lot of the forest is slated to be burned. However, a portion of these forests – the part that is close to a road -- could be headed to a biomass power plant.

Biomass power is a superior renewable in that it has other benefits:

1)    It provides a 24/7 baseload power – it can be produced even if the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow

2)    It has a net carbon benefit because it not only is a renewable energy source, but it limits the emissions from pile burning in the forest.

3)    It creates more local jobs than other sources of power, according to the US Department of Energy.

I know what some of you are thinking: If we are cutting woody biomass out of the forest (and using fuel to do so), then transporting it to a biomass facility (and using fuel to do so), how can you say that biomass energy is carbon neutral? A lot of work has gone into assessing this and given our local situation, biomass energy achieves a net decrease in atmospheric Greenhouse gasses compared to the alternative of open burning of the materials.

I have to take this one step further. Is there any hope for biomass energy in the mid Klamath? I think this really comes down to this question: who pays the cost? Even if you can get behind biomass as a carbon-neutral source of renewable energy with added community and ecosystem services in theory, would you pay a higher rate for this type of energy on your utility bill?

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The brightest beacon of hope for biomass is the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) – the system in seven states, including California, which allows cities and counties to aggregate the buying power of individual customers to secure alternative energy supply contracts on a community-wide basis. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors agreed two weeks ago to enter into the CCA program as part of Redwood Coast Energy Authority. The Board of Supervisors unanimously supports biomass energy being part of the CCA renewable energy portfolio. The CCA would still offer a lower rate than PG&E – which is critical so that customers don’t choose to opt out of the CCA – while adding biomass to the mix.

Here’s hoping that the Redwood Coast Energy Authority can take advantage of being in the Saudi Arabia of biomass.

Luna has worked with MKWC since 2003 when she was doing graduate research with the Orleans/Somes Bar Fire Safe Council. She is a fifth-generation forest worker from Southern Oregon. She lives in Orleans, CA and works for MKWC as one of two Directors. Luna oversees administration and operations for MKWC. She received a Master’s degree in Applied Anthropology from Oregon State University with a focus on forest restoration projects on private land within the middle Klamath. Luna works with private landowners, agencies, contractors and non-profit organizations to restore both upslope and in-stream ecosystems. Luna is passionate about non-timber forest products and spends her free time harvesting and processing acorns, huckleberries, mushrooms, and other food and medicines.

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by Chris Root

Scott Upton faced an overwhelming job in 2015. He began his presentation at the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council’s recent conference in Middletown, California saying as much.

Scott was the CALFIRE Unit Chief during four major fires in the tri-county Sonoma/Lake/Napa unit.  Four years into the most severe drought on record in California, his agency saw a massive increase in the number of fires and area burned over their past averages. 

middleton-01-800.jpgThe Valley Fire in Middletown was described as the third most destructive on record in the state, but it was just one of several large incidents that CALFIRE managed that year.  Everyone at the conference was trying to figure out what made this fire so destructive. Was it just a freak of nature, or was this going to be the new normal for fire behavior in California? 

The 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite and the 2014 King fire in Tahoe each burned over 50,000 acres in a single day.  These massive fires, Scott reminded the conference, were not driven by extreme wind events. They were triggered by drought-stressed fuels and vegetation.

The Valley Fire, which spread 40,000 acres and burned through three towns in the first 12 hours of the incident, was the new normal in times of drought.  What was exceptionally terrible about this fire was that it occurred within a populated area, not in the back country of the Sierra Nevada.

Phil VanMantgem, a USGS scientist warned the conference participants that the current drought might be a possible preview of the future climate conditions in California.  The current drought, he explained, is different than past events.  Sure there is less rain than average -  everyone is aware of that.  But what’s unprecedented are the record-breaking temperatures that are coupled with the lack of rainfall.  These temperatures are causing California’s overstocked and drought-stressed vegetation to suck the soil dry in a desperate effort to survive.  If the moisture content got any lower in the vegetation burned during the Valley Fire, the plants would have died from drought stress alone. 

During a tour of the Boggs Mountain State Demonstration Forest, the conference participants witnessed entire mountainsides of drought-stressed plantations killed by the ambient heat of the Valley Fire.  They were so stressed they essentially baked to death from radiant heat generated in a surface fire. 

What was especially surprising to CALFIRE, the managing agency at the Boggs forest, is that this area was perceived to be the shining example of responsible forest management in Lake County.  The agency had even conducted some small prescribed fires in the heat-killed forest stands, a management practice that is rarely implemented in heavily populated counties in central California.  These small demonstration burns, conducted over 10 years prior to the Valley Fire, had very little impact on tree survival.

Jeremy Bailey, a leader in the Nature Conservancy’s Fire Learning Network, and one of the nation’s greatest proponents of prescribed fire use, questioned how CALFIRE - the largest and most technologically advanced firefighting organization of its type in the world - intended to expand the use of prescribed fire when the agency found it difficult to burn 30 acres a year on its demonstration forest.  The agency representatives expressed that the barriers to implementing burns were the same faced by private land owners, and by prescribed fire practitioners state wide.

Organizers initiated the conference to confront serious and seemingly intractable issues such as this drought stress phenomenon and the havoc it can wreak on California communities when wildfire strikes. As you would expect from a conference centered in a natural disaster area, most discussions were somewhat discouraging and depressing. 

Participants in the 2014 Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange make the front cover of Wildfire Magazine.

There was some optimism, however, centered on the Nature Conservancy Fire Learning Network’s TREX or Prescribed Fire Training Exchange program. The majority of the representatives from state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private land owners participating in the conference came to an understanding that the only way forward is through cooperating and sharing the responsibility and liability of implementing prescribed fire projects.

That mutual agreement will be essential to changing the way we respond to future fires. That shift, in turn, can help us get ahead of mega droughts and fires to be safer and smarter down the line. 

Photos: 

Above left: Middletown, Lake County, CA was one of three towns impacted by the 2015 Valley Fire.

At right: participants in the 2014 Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange make the front cover of Wildfire Magazine.

 

Chris Root is MKWC's Fire and Fuels project coordinator, responsible for overseeing MKWC's brushing and burning crews and helping to implement the annual Prescribed Fire Training Exchange in the Middle Klamath watershed. 

 
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