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BOR is a bad player — Liz Writes Life 2-14-17

Liz Writes Life

Feb. 14, 2017

Liz Writes Life

Published in Siskiyou Daily News, Yreka, CA.

A devastating flood disaster along the Klamath River was avoided last weekend — and it was because Siskiyou Co. Supervisors, officials and employees instantly jumped into high-gear.

Siskiyou Co. Natural Resources Specialist Elizabeth Nielsen quickly relayed a Press Release that she found on the county’s Office of Emergency Services website last Friday morning. It was from the Bureau of Reclamation and stated that BOR had lost a lawsuit and was immediately releasing a gigantic pulse of water into the Klamath River. What?

The pulse was to be released at noon on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017 with an increase from the 4,000 cfs to 9,600 cfs over a four day period. This would be on top of an already flooding Klamath River that had closed Hwy 96 above Happy Camp. There was over a foot-and-a-half of water over the highway at Granite Point on Friday morning.

Elizabeth immediately contacted our five county supervisors and CAO, who then started burning up the cell phone lines. Ray Haupt, Dist. 5 Supervisor, admitted to me that he was pretty upset. His constituents were in the direct line of this potential disaster. He contacted PacifiCorp to see if they would actually allow the huge water increase on top of a flood stage. He was told it was out of their hands as BOR decrees the flows. Ray’s next phone call was to Erin Ryan, office staff for Congressman Doug LaMalfa. Erin immediately contacted LaMalfa’s Washington D.C. staff, who went to work calling federal officials with the BOR.

Ray told me that Michael Kopseff, Chairman of the Siskiyou Supervisors, first calls were to Assemblyman Brian Dahle and State Senator Ted Gaines offices for help. Terry Barber, Siskiyou Co. CAO, began alerting county departments and started the legal process to shut-down BOR’s pulse flow.

Ray kicked his fire knowledge into gear knowing that fire-type folks are year-round emergency personnel. Tom Mopas, Seiad Valley Fire Chief, provided Ray with on-the-ground info of the raging Klamath River and let him know that high waters were within six-inches of flooding homes on Walker Creek. Ray was able to relay that our congressman and his staff were at a dead run contacting the decision-making BOR officials.

According to the BOR officials in Klamath Falls, the pulse of water had already been released from Upper Klamath Lake. But, Ray believed it could be slowed through the use of the dams between Klamath Falls and Iron Gate dam near Hornbrook. The phone calls continued. Ray talked with his contacts in Cal-Fire. Cal-Trans booted-up even more and CHP officers were part of the emergency alerting process to river residents.

Ray finally received a response from California State Regional BOR Director late in the afternoon. He was told that BOR would not increase the river flow above flood stage with their pulses. Nature also helped out. Rain had stopped, freezing temps slowed the runoff Friday night and sunshine brightened Saturday’s morning. Catastrophic disaster was averted.

Ray said it is “unconscionable” the county was not notified by BOR — through the county CAO’s office. Neither was Humboldt County notified, well other than Ray, who asked the Siskiyou Cal-Fire chief to contact the Humboldt Cal-Fire chief.

Ray has found the lawsuit and read where the judge’s order gave complete discretion of pulse release timing to BOR!

So, who in their right mind would order a doubling of the release of water from the Klamath dams on top of a flood event? Who wouldn’t follow a basic protocol to contact officials in Siskiyou and Humboldt Counties? It is not just unconscionable, it is outrageous!

What is more outrageous is that after writing the above information on Sunday night, I learned of a news article in the Herald and News in Klamath Falls dated Feb. 9, 2017 – one day before Friday. It reported that BOR would be ramping-up the water release on Feb. 10, 2017, because the judge issued the lawsuit order on Feb. 8, 2017. And this was to “take advantage” of the increased flow event of rain-on-snow conditions.

The article also stated: “United States District Judge William H. Orrick ordered Reclamation to implement “winter-spring flushing flows designed to dislodge and flush out polychaete worms that host C. Shasta”. The increased flow event was planned in coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa Valley and Klamath Tribes, Klamath Project water users, state and other fisheries experts, and PacifiCorp.”

I would think that at least one person in these groups would be smart enough to suggest the pulse could wait a few weeks, so homes and highways would not be flooded and damaged. This lapse of judgment boggles the mind.

The positive note from this situation is the teamwork and instant hustle of our county governing officials, CAO and county staff. It is truly comforting to know this group of people really does have a high-level of concern for the welfare of its citizens. Thank you to Ray and supervisors, county department heads, fire fighters, law enforcement and all emergency services. Thank you!

For those of you who think I am laying it on a little thick – it wasn’t very many years ago that I didn’t believe there was enough concern or teamwork or hustle or connections to federal and state officials to have stopped this catastrophic disaster. (Doug LaMalfa played a major roll with his influence on BOR.) There has been a good change in much of our county’s governing and attitude and I truly appreciate it.

The Scott Valley Protect Our Water meeting was well attended last week. I’ve run out of room to discuss it in this week’s column. Let’s just say the groundwater levels are doing well and the water studies will certainly aid local control of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Plan. I will share the good news next week.

Liz Bowen is a native of Siskiyou County and lives near Callahan, CA. Call her at 530-467-3515.

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