State says Klamath smothered in sediment
October 29, 2006
A state water quality agency put the Klamath River on a list of troubled waters this week, this time for having too much sediment for its own good.
The lower reach of the river is now considered impaired for sediment, but it will be some time before a plan is formed to cut the amount of dirt that reaches the river and chokes salmon spawning grounds.
”We're just saying there is a problem there and it needs to be looked at,” said State Water Resources Control Board spokesman Chris Davis.
Davis said the listing was a cautionary approach, because they had been notified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that states don't have regulatory jurisdiction on tribal lands. The Yurok Reservation is a mile on each side of the river from its mouth to Weitchpec. Davis said the EPA will determine if the river should be moved onto a federal list.
Kevin McKernan, environmental program director for the Yurok Tribe, said that it's good the state recognizes the tribe's jurisdiction.
”We agree with what the board said,” McKernan said. “We support the science and the science says it's impaired.”
The listing paves the way for a cumbersome process called Total Maximum Daily Load, which sets a limit for a pollutant, then develops a plan to meet the standard. That process can take many years.
In the meantime, the Yurok Tribe and Green Diamond Resource Co. have for years been working on retiring roads that bleed silt into the river and its tributaries and by replacing culverts with bridges.
Green Diamond Forest Policy Manager Gary Rynearson said he hopes its program will address the problem, which he imagined may cost more money to collect more information on sediment coming from roads and logging. He said he'd be concerned if additional regulations eventually came out of the decision.
”We think that we should already be addressing some of these sediment issues,” Rynearson said.
Retired surgeon and river advocate Denver Nelson sees sediment as a critical problem facing the struggling river, and was among those who pressed for the impaired designation. He believes it may be more important than removing dams or raising water levels, which tend to get more attention.
”Sediment is the cake,” Nelson said, “the dams are the frosting.”