Tim Hearden/Capital Press
Former U.S. Bureau of Reclamation senior science advisor Paul Houser stands outside a meeting hall at the Siskiyou Golden Fairgrounds in Yreka, Calif., Houser, who claims he was fired by the agency for voicing concerns about the Klamath River dam removal process, spoke to about 200 people May 7.
By TIM HEARDEN
Thursday, May 10, 2012
YREKA, Calif. — The former U.S. Bureau of Reclamation senior science adviser who claims he was fired in February for speaking out about the Klamath River dam removal process said removing the dams should be an “extreme” last resort.
Paul Houser told about 200 people here May 7 that removing the four dams from the river is “an uncontrolled experiment” with impacts such as poor water quality that could have dire consequences for fisheries.
He said much further study is needed of alternatives such as fish passage, adding that scientists should truck in fish above the dams to see if they can find suitable habitat.
“We don’t know what would happen if we did nothing, so for me, taking the dams out is the most extreme option,” said Houser, 41, a George Mason University professor and former National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist who was hired last year to oversee the Klamath scientific studies.
“For me as a scientist, I’d like to know more about those less extreme options,” he said.
Houser filed federal whistleblower and scientific-integrity complaints after he says superiors told him his “skills weren’t a match for the position” and terminated him, he said in an interview.
He alleges officials wrote a summary and news release to elicit support for dam removal while downplaying negative remarks from scientists that were in the full reports. He said superiors told him to be quiet about his concerns, then he faced increasing scrutiny on his job.
Interior spokeswoman Kate Kelly said Houser’s complaints are still being reviewed. The Department of the Interior “has established a rigorous and transparent scientific process that is ongoing and will inform the decision about potential removal of the four Klamath River dams,” she said in an email May 8.
Work has been proceeding on a final environmental document that will choose a “preferred alternative” among five options, which range from doing nothing to fully dismantling the four dams in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
Other alternatives being considered include partial removal of the dams while keeping some structures behind, removing only two of the four dams, and installing fish passages around the dams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Matthew Baun has said.
Houser said in his speech that it appears top Interior officials have already decided they want the dams out and are seeking the science to back up their decision.
“Scientists often do their work based on who they’re paid by,” he said, adding that they stop short of examining all available options. “That happens all the time in science … and you don’t get the unbiased science you need.”
Houser’s speech came during a three-day swing through the region, where he also was slated to address the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on May 8 and a tea party meeting later in the evening.
In speaking out, Houser has become a darling of dam-removal opponents and tea party activists, many of whom attended his speech. His appearance was sponsored by the Bi-State Alliance, a recently formed group fighting for water rights issues.
Hearing Houser’s story provides “an assurance that there are honest people in this world and honest people in government,” said Leo Bergeron of Montague, Calif., one of the organizers. “We’ve been dealing with liars and thieves.”
Houser acknowledged in the interview he is concerned that his message may be co-opted by people with political agendas, but he was willing to speak to anyone who would listen. He said he did not initially intend to go public but that others, including Siskiyou County officials, forwarded his complaint letter to the media.
“I wanted to make sure that by moving forward on this that I wasn’t doing it as a benefit to me,” he told the audience. “A lot of scientists in government are doing good work and are afraid to come forward with these kinds of reports because the same thing would happen with them that did with me.”
Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement studies and EIS/EIR: http://klamathrestoration.gov