Cleanup plan for Klamath River approved

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Taking a major step in a long campaign to force the cleanup of one of California’s major salmon rivers, the federal government has approved a state plan that calls for significant reductions in pollution from agricultural runoff and dam operations on the Klamath River.

The new pollution limits are intended to start recovery of a river once home to bountiful salmon runs but more recently known as a polluted, water-starved battleground for farmers, tribes and salmon fishermen.


‘It’s nice to have a victory like this after so many years of litigation,” said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Assns., one of several groups that sued in the 1990s to get the state to take action.

It will take years, if not decades, to meet the standards. The pollution problems are spread across southern Oregon and Northern California and for the most part arise from hydropower dams and runoff from farms, ranches and logging operations.

“You can’t really flip the switch,” said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which put the standards into play with its approval.

The dams are slated for eventual removal under a separate agreement. But farmers, ranchers and the U.S. Forest Service are going to have to change some of their practices to reduce erosion and runoff that has loaded the river with sediment and nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen.

The Klamath National Forest is working on decommissioning old logging roads, and ranchers are beginning to erect fences to keep cattle off the river banks, officials said. Keeping contaminated irrigation runoff out of the river will take more effort.

“They can fight it but it’s going to happen. We’re willing to work with people in getting it accomplished,” said Dave Clegern, press officer for the State Water Resources Control Board.


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-- Bettina Boxall