By Marcia H. Armstrong, Siskiyou County Supervisor – District 5
“Klamath Whistleblower” Part 1 of 2:
Recently, Paul Houser, Ph.D. met with the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors (BoS) to discuss the science of the Klamath dam removal studies. Houser has a degree in hydrology and is an expert in hydrometeorology. He is currently a Professor at George Mason University. He was the Bureau of Reclamation’s (BoR) Science Advisor and his duties included advice on peer review and scientific integrity.
In September of 2011, Dr. Houser was asked to review a press release and summary of the dam removal science. In his review, he felt that the documents were biased and the science was being spun or manipulated to support dam removal. Houser commented that science informs decisions and decision-makers should get a realistic summary of the risks.
When he transmitted his concerns, he was advised not to create a document that would be discoverable by Congress or a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA.) It was also indicated that his disclosure was not welcome because the Secretary of Interior wanted the dams removed. It became clear to Dr. Houser that the decision to remove the dams had already been made and the science was being manipulated to support a predetermined outcome.
Despite making his concerns known in writing, they were never addressed. The press release was changed slightly, but not the summary of the science. The BoR recategorized his position as probationary and eliminated his travel, training and mentoring. In February 2012, his Supervisor gave him the option of resigning or being terminated. He chose the later and has filed a complaint raising issues of biased science and scientific integrity with the Inspector General for Whistleblower Protection. The following Monday, the Secretary of Interior delayed the anticipated announcement on his decision whether or not to remove the Klamath dams, stating that Congress had not yet passed legislation giving him the authority to do so.
Citing examples of manipulated science to the BoS, Houser pointed out that the dam removal EIS/EIR (Environmental Impact Statement/Report) claims an expected 81.4% increase in Chinook population. The expert scientific panel actually indicated an expected possible increase of as much as 10% in chinook spawners due to 10 different factors, including water quality and significant restoration work in the tributaries. The 81.4% figure came from an un-peer reviewed report by a contractor, which had a huge range of uncertainty.
When asked by the BoS about his opinion concerning dam removal, Houser pointed out core water quality and temperature issues in the Upper Klamath that were limiting factors to salmon. He also expressed concern about the impacts of the sediment flush. He said that he believed that removing the dams was at best – risky, and at worst – tragic. One of the real issues is that the BoR failed to consider logical alternatives to dam removal, such as truck and haul or the fish bypass. Also, his Supervisor had been a long time lobbyist for Trout Unlimited, which posed an ethical conflict of interest.
Houser talked about how paid science can reflect the purchaser’s agenda. The wording of a hypothesis given to a scientist by an agency drives the science and can result in bias if it fails to consider all the options. The government’s failure to do social and economic impact analysis also leads to imbalanced decisions and the failure to recognize trade-offs.
He talked about his concerns over how the dams would be breached and the remaining slow release of eroded fine sediment that would affect the river for years afterward. According to Houser, the habitat in the Upper Basin is not even good habitat for salmon and steelhead. He agreed with Supervisor Kobseff that a trial test of released hatchery salmon in the Upper Basin would be a prudent experiment before removing the dams. Houser also agreed that truck and haul was not a radical alternative and that it was being used in other rivers.
State Responsibility Area (SRA) Fire Prevention Benefit Fee: There will be a hearing by the CA Board of Forestry on the proposed draft permanent State Responsibility Area (SRA) fee on May 23 at the Shasta County Board of Supervisors Chambers, 1450 Court Street, from 1-4 p.m. As it currently stands, fee bills of $150.00 per per habitable structure are set to be sent to property owners on August 7. Property owners within the SRA and also within the boundaries of a local agency that provides fire protection services shall receive a reduction $35.00 per habitable structure. Written comments on the permanent regulations can be submitted anytime to the Board of Forestry at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mr. George Gentry, Executive Officer , Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, P.O. Box 944246, Sacramento, CA 94244-2460
By Marcia H. Armstrong, Siskiyou County Supervisor – District 5
“Klamath Whistleblower” Part 2 of 2:
Recently, Paul Houser, Ph.D. met with the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors (BoS) to discuss the science of Klamath dam removal. Houser was the Bureau of Reclamation’s (BoR) Science Advisor and his duties included advice on peer review and scientific integrity.
According to Dr. Houser, politics has no place in science and if you are trusting science from the BoR, it comes with a political agenda. The expert panel reports were rather good in expressing the uncertainty and the risk of the impacts of dam removal. It was decision-makers higher up that were trying to change the science to match their political agenda. Houser also expressed some concern about the peer reviewers selected to review the science. In one case, a dam removal engineer was selected as a reviewer – bringing a possible predetermined bias and conflict of interest.
Supervisor Grace Bennett expressed concern that removal of the dams would eliminate their function as “settling ponds” in cleaning the river. Houser indicated that the water quality in the Upper Basin was impaired by phosphorus from volcanic soils. Studies have shown how the dams have cleaned up water quality. Without them, the poor water quality at Keno will be the water quality for the entire river. He also indicated that in the Upside down nature of the Klamath River, the Trinity River’s contribution to cold, clean water is extremely important. It appears to be treated as a separate river, instead of a vital part of the Klamath River system.
Houser had concerns for the toxicity of the sediment behind the dams. He said that it contained chemicals that had been used in the past that don’t break down easily. Once the dams are removed, a layer of from one to six feet of sediment would be deposited on the streambed downstream of the dams. The dam removal EIS/EIS (Environmental Impact Statement/Report) assumes that most of the sediment will stay in place. As has been shown with old mill dams in the Shenandoah, erosion over the years can caused a legacy of water quality problems into the future.
Surprisingly, there has been very little push back from his allegations from supporters of dam removal. When he was challenged to a debate by an environmentalist, he answered that he was going to argue in favor or scientific integrity and asked if the challenger was going to argue in favor of scientific misconduct.
In the delta smelt lawsuit, each side had its own scientists. The irrigator’s scientists tried to convince the judge that the fish’s needs allowed for flows to farmers. The agency’s scientists tried to convince the judge that every drop of water was needed for the fish. It was obvious what the biases were and the judge had to decide between them. He blasted the federal scientists. He told them that they were being paid by the tax payer and were obligated to look at all sides, good or bad, and provide unbiased and balanced information upon which to base a decision.
In the case of the Klamath, Houser indicated that the local scientists he had spoken with are disgusted with what has happened with science on the Klamath. Houser would like to do an independent peer review and take a look at what we do know and what we still need to know.
Supervisor Bennett indicated that the local fish passage idea had been turned down out of hand by the CA Dept of Fish and Game and BoR. Houser stated that the fish passage idea looked like a good creative idea if it would deliver fish to suitable habitat. Engineering makes sense in other areas with high tech elevators, etc., why not on the Klamath?
Natural Resource Specialist Ric Costales asked whether or not working in a hotbed of political pressures was just par for the course for scientists. Houser indicated that the Klamath was particularly egregious because the Secretary had made the decision to remove the dams years before in 2009 and had implemented a process masquerading as a scientific process to justify it.
County Counsel Tom Guarino stated that the BoS had long been concerned about the quality of Klamath science and had insisted that reference to the President’s March 9, 2009, Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on “scientific integrity” be included in the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement. Dr. Houser indicated that, as BoR advisor for scientific integrity, he was required to follow these Presidential orders.
In regard to his formal complaint to the Inspector General for Whistleblower Protection on the scientific bias and lack of integrity, Houser stated that he had also included Siskiyou County’s concerns raised in its comments on the dam removal EIS/EIR