Algae toxin added to Klamath River quality standards

Redding Record Searchlight – 3/22/08
By Dylan Darling, staff writer

Tiny toxins produced by bright green algae along the Klamath River in Siskiyou County have been added by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to a list of factors to be considered while forming new water quality standards for the river.

The Iron Gate Dam is one of a string of four power dams on the river owned by Portland, Ore.-based PacifiCorp. While the company is attempting to win a new 50-year federal license to continue operating the dams, environmentalists, as well as farmers above the dams and fisherman below them, have called for their removal.

And the algae is another reason to remove them, environmentalists say.

“They are the things that create skin rashes,” said Peter Kozelka, a scientist in the EPA’s San Francisco office. The toxins also can cause liver problems and tumors.

Already on the list of possible problems are nutrients, dissolved oxygen levels and temperature — all factors that determine whether the algae will bloom, Kozelka said. The affected area is a stretch of about 20 miles along the river between Iron Gate Dam and the Oregon border.

Klamath Riverkeeper — the Orleans-based environmental group whose lawsuit against the EPA spurred the addition of the toxins to the list — said the change could be another reason for PacifiCorp to remove the dams.

“It means that PacifiCorp will need to clean up the toxic algae, and we think the only way to do so is to remove the dams,” said Regina Chichizola, director of Klamath Riverkeeper.

But Art Sasse, a Pacifi-Corp spokesman, said the change shouldn’t affect PacifiCorp’s re-licensing effort.

He said the company has always taken algae in the Klamath River as a serious matter that has been occurring naturally in the river for decades and is fed by nutrients from sources far upstream.

“We don’t anticipate that this will affect our clean water certification process in any way,” he said.

The EPA expects to set water quality standards for the river in 2009.

Meanwhile, in an agreement released in January, a coalition of 26 stakeholders in the Klamath Basin pegged dam removal as a key component in settling longstanding battles over water in the basin.

But the company isn’t among the stakeholders that forged the agreement and is continuing efforts to relicense the dams rather than remove them.

The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors held an informational meeting about the agreement, led by Phil Detrich of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that drew about 25 Dunsmuir area residents Thursday night.

Another meeting on the same topic is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Miners Inn Convention Center in Yreka.