Klamath River Dam Removal

Commiefornia County Declares State of Emergency Over Dam Removals on Klamath River

(The Epoch Times)—Siskiyou County, in the northernmost part of California, declared a state of emergency March 26 and requested state assistance to help residents impacted by the state’s dam removal project on the Klamath River.

Since January, residents living along the river have watched as the 100-year-old Copco Lake disappeared after the state began drawing down dams along the bi-state waterway. The state’s plan to remove four dams along the river is part of its strategy to restore salmon fisheries and habitat.

The county’s board of supervisors approved the emergency declaration resolution at a special meeting Tuesday on a 4–1 vote. Officials said they hoped state assistance could help them monitor the effects of sediment released that has sent algae and chemicals downriver into communities and affected fish.

“This is a proactive move,” Board Chair Michael Kobseff told residents at the special meeting. “The proclamation is to get attention from the state of California and hopefully somewhere from the federal agencies. … It’s just to provide assurance to the community.”

After samples tested showed high levels of arsenic and other metals, county residents were warned this month not to drink or touch Klamath River water that has already killed scores of fish and some wildlife.

Supervisor Ed Valenzuela voted against the resolution, saying the river’s problems are getting “plenty of spotlight” and questioned what the emergency declaration could add.

County leaders said they are hoping the declaration will raise alarms with the state to monitor the changing river conditions.

“This decision marks a pivotal moment in our county’s response to the evolving landscape, emphasizing the importance of preparedness and collaborative action,” county officials said in a press release this week.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services told The Epoch Times the county’s request for an emergency declaration “has been transmitted to the state and will be evaluated on its merits,” according to the office’s spokesman, Brian Ferguson.

Rick Dean, director of the county’s community development department, said since the start of the dam removals, the look of the river water has varied. Some days it resembles the color of chocolate milk and on others it’s black, depending on its flow and how much sediment has been dumped into it, he said.

“There will be times where it’s worse,” Mr. Dean told The Epoch Times. “All in all, it’s not good.”

After the Siskiyou County Environmental Health Department’s safety alert this month saying residents should avoid the river, due to high levels of arsenic, lead, and aluminum, one mother told county supervisors, also this month, her son was having nose bleeds. She said tests of their water showed high levels of chromium present.

Earlier this month, the Siskiyou County Department of Natural Resources released a report stating about 4.3 million tons of sediment had accumulated in the reservoirs over the past 80 years, with more than half of it in Copco Lake. The sediment is expected to eventually flush downriver after the dams are removed.

The state has proposed planting vegetation to stabilize the sediment, according to the report, but such is not yet in place, causing public health concerns, the report said.

The county’s environmental health division collected water quality samples which show there are “higher than baseline concentrations of arsenic, lead, and aluminum,” and nickel, according to the report.

The levels are above federal and state water quality standards, and may cause harmful health effects if consumed, the county reported.

“Therefore, it is not safe to consume the Klamath River surface water,” the county said in the report.

The county additionally advised residents in January not to attempt to rescue animals in the river for their own safety and well-being.

“Going into the mud can pose serious risks to your safety and well-being,” the county said in the alert.

Matt St. John, an environmental program manager with the state’s North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, which oversees the area in question, brushed off the county’s concerns at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The water board does not believe the Klamath River water quality conditions pose any public health risk associated with potential well contamination, recreational water contact, or to drinking water systems,” Mr. St. John said.

The state anticipated water quality to diminish during the dam removal project in the short term, he said. The only drinking water affected was a system that fed a state rest stop, according to Mr. St. John.

However, no one should be drinking surface water from the river without treating it, he said. The water board also told county supervisors it believes metals from sediment would not affect the area’s groundwater wells located near the river.

Some residents who spoke at the county’s meeting, however, said they remained concerned.

William Simpson, a rancher in the area, said he supported the proclamation and state of emergency.

“We need to err on the side of citizens,” Mr. Simpson said. “There’s a lot of things going wrong. There’s a lot of unintended consequences here. The people up and down the river are exposed to what’s going on in that river.”

Longtime Copco Lake resident Chrissie Reynolds held back tears as she talked about the animals trapped in mud after the lake drained in January. She said she heard gunshots Jan. 27 when the first two deer stuck were euthanized by the state. Then, eight more were killed, she said.

“I have not had proper sleep, proper rest,” she said. “Today’s [my] wedding anniversary and I haven’t had time to even think about that. Or my daughter’s 16th birthday, or Easter or anything.”

Resident Holly Hansard also said the community has suffered an extreme loss.

“It’s devastating, and it is shocking,” she told supervisors. “The full extent of the emergency hasn’t really come to surface. But we need a victory. We need a little bit of love.”

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