Posts Tagged ‘watershed’

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Klamath River, by prentz -- Creative Commons license: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

River of Renewal — Stephen Most and Jack Kohler’s film — will be screening this week and weekend in the area:

  • Thursday, Feb. 5 — at HSU Library “fishbowl” (Room 209) at 4 pm (book signing and talk); 5:30 for screening in Founders Hall Room 118
  • Friday, Feb. 6 — at the Yurok Tribal Headquarters in Klamath at 6 pm
  • Saturday, Feb 7 — at College of Redwoods Campus, Crescent City at 7 pm (photographer Thomas B. Dunklin will be screening University of Washington salmon footage before the film)
  • Sunday, Feb 8 — at Westhaven Center for the Arts at 7 pm

The movie is a documentary on the Klamath River focus on the down-river story, as well as current issues and perspectives. It reportedly includes footage of the Salmon War (1978), plus interviews with tribal elders, council members, and fishermen.

Links of interest:


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klamathupriverThe Karuk Tribe, California Trout and the Sierra Fund have  petitioned the California Department of Fish and Game to impose emergency rules on suction dredge mining for gold in Klamath River basin streams, according to an article in the Times-Standard on Friday.

Suction dredge mining destroys fish spawning and rearing habitat, particularly for the vulnerable — and valuable — trout and salmon.  Not only does it physically disturb the gravel, pools, woody debris, and other habitat features used by the fish to lay eggs and spend the early stages of their life, but it also disturbs older bottom sediments that were mixed in with mining wastes in the earlier days of mining in the Klamath basin.

Older mining processes were more damaging to the environment, using substances such as mercury, and leaving high concentrations of metals in tailings that were discharged to streams.  Over the years, the commingled sediment and mining wastes have been covered by fresh, uncontaminated (or less contaminated) sediment from the upper reaches of the watershed, but the suction dredging exposes the older contamination anew.

The alliance of conservationist groups and California tribes won a court ruling in 2006 that pressed CDFG to create new rules, but in a bold use of regulations against their original intent, gold mining interests then delayed the changes by arguing rule-making must follow the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.  CEQA demands that all state projects be reviewed for their environmental impacts, and that these impacts be mitigated as far as reasonably feasible.

Naturally, CEQA was intended to protect the environment from exactly the type of impacts the current dredge mining create but because changing the rules now constitutes a new project, the review requirements were used to slow the process, forcing a public review to evaluate the environmental impacts of tightening the rules!  CEQA does allow a special process for emergency actions, which is why the environmentalist coalition is asking the emergency rules.

Some things don’t seem to change.  Pretty much the first contact that  Northern California tribes have had with the U.S. and other recent immigrants to this continent was with the 49ers, gold prospectors of the mid-19th century.  No, things didn’t go well back then either.

The gold mining interests have now joined forces with other proponents of unfettered natural resource extraction in the watershed and are cultivating the image of the small lone guy out to carve his birthright from the hostile wilderness (and the even more hostile tree-huggers), but this Manifest Destiny is actually backed by quite a bit of economic momentum.

The price of gold has been rising madly in the last decade and as the North Coast Journal points out, is expected to rise strongly in 2009 despite a drop in 2008. Meanwhile, CDFG’s revision of the rules is entirely dependant on whether it gets funding for it in the state budget.  Moreover, the rise in the price of gold actually cost the state money in personnel and effort to process permits.

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An article in yesterday’s Times-Standard described a sediment removal project that Humboldt County will undertake to control flooding in the lower reach of Jacoby Creek. The project is acknowledged as a stop-gap action, but it’s what the County can do with the access and means it has to bring the problem under some measure of control for a time.

Behind this is, also as acknowledged by the County, an entire watershed management challenge. Over the years, like in so many other watersheds, the upper reaches of the creek have been logged, which causes erosion to dump more sediment in the stream; the middle and lower reaches have become increasingly constrained by culverts and bridges which can block fish passage and where the sediment can accumulate; and the lower reach has been developed for human use with considerable loss of the wetlands and meanders that used to provide seasonal flood storage.

Associated problems, besides flooding, include increased turbidity (murkiness) of the water, increased temperature from the lack of shading in logged areas, and disappearance of deep pools and riffles, factors which are harmful to aquatic species and particularly to salmonids native to the creek (Chinook and coho salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout); as well as erosion-related landslides.

Solutions to the issues threatening the health of the watershed will inevitably be multi-pronged and comprehensive. Components include excavating sediment behind bridges and obstacles, removing or upgrading culverts there, managing logging activities to control the amount of exposed slope area, creating protected forest areas, and restoring wetlands and in-stream habitat, etc.

In order to get these components to work together rather than at cross-purposes, it is essential to plan at the watershed level and to involve as many of the interested parties and agencies as possible. Single-issue approaches (e.g., focusing only on one location or one problem), even the best intentioned, cannot address the scope of the problem. Nevertheless, the County’s sediment removal is a necessary part of the response at this time.

Some links of interest:

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A large aquatic habitat restoration project has been announced for the mouth of the Nisqually River; it will provide habitat for South Sound chinook salmon, a federally-listed threatened species as well as a state candidate species. Some 762 acres (308 hectares) of saltwater estuary habitat will be restored by removing the old levees isolating them from the Puget Sound and opening them to tidal action; more than 21 miles of tidal sloughs and channels will be returned to their natural condition.

The project is a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Nisqually Indian Tribe, and Ducks Unlimited. The three partners have worked together before on extensive salt marsh restoration in areas adjacent to the project limits. Other funding comes from Washington state salmon recovery and Puget Sound restoration funds.

Estuaries provide feeding grounds and resting areas for young chinook and chum salmon. Ecodiversity is extremely high in these zones, where the fresh water from rivers meets the salt water of ocean bodies, providing good food sources. Streams slow down as they widen, meander and split upon reaching marine bodies, providing twists and turns for young salmon to take cover and rest. Salmonid species are genetically conditioned to live at different salinity levels as they change life stages; this means that at certain periods of their life cycle, if there is insufficient habitat of that particular type available, a significant number of young salmon will not be able to make it to the next phase of their life and will therefore never return to spawn another generation of salmon. Mudflats in estuarine areas area also a formidable breeding ground for the small prey favoured by shore birds.

Sadly for bird-watchers and other nature lovers, the restoration will necessitate the removal of the 5.5-mile (8.9 km) trail that currently tops the old levee. However, new trails and boardwalk will be created to provide visitor access by 2010. This is a good reason for visitors to go hike or bike the existing loop trail while it’s accessible; there is extremely good birding to be done there. Watch out for American bitterns, double-crested cormorants, several species of mergansers, and the ubiquitous great blue herons.

The articles I read did not offer a discussion of potential changes in flood storage capacity. This is always a sensitive issue when removing old dikes and levees. During extreme flood conditions, the Nisqually River overtops its banks upstream of the Refuge, on the south side of the I-5 bridge. The Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (CCP/EIS) prepared for the project states that the alternatives which restored the majority of the diked area and eliminated cross-dikes along the McAllister Creek side of the Refuge also reduced flood impacts to the Refuge. These alternatives allowed flood waters from the McAllister Creek overflow channel to empty unimpeded into the McAllister Creek tidal system, instead of emptying inside of diked habitat. However, diked areas in all alternatives were still flooded by flows from the overflow channel at the southeast corner of the Refuge.


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