Some of the most difficult questions surrounding what would be the largest dam removal project in the world have yet to be answered.

Tearing out four dams on the Klamath River would be an incredibly complicated endeavor, requiring a host of engineering studies, economic analyses and biological investigations before it could start. After a broad array of tribes, agencies, fishing groups, environmental and farming interests -- though not without opposition -- signed two agreements to embark on the project in February, the federal government and the state of California are coming to the public in what they say is an effort to turn over every stone.

Public meetings on the development of an environmental impact statement and environmental impact report have been held in inland areas, and they are now beginning on the coast. A meeting will be held today in Brookings, Ore., Wednesday in Arcata and in Orleans on Thursday.

The sessions, called scoping meetings, are meant to inform the agencies working on the environmental analyses, which will be molded together with a set of technical studies. All together, the information will be used by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to determine if tearing out the dams is in the public's best interest.

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Though I share the frustration about salmon declines in the Mattole expressed in Glen Councilman's July 9th letter, “Sea Lions Need the Management,” his argument doesn't add up. It goes -- “Sea lions have been killing many of the remaining Mattole River salmon. The people in the Mattole who have been working to save the salmon have failed to kill sea lions or let them be killed. They are thus responsible for the loss of the salmon.”

Sorry, Glen. That's not the way it is. Here's just one bit of history that suggests the existence of alternative factors in salmon decline. I knew an old tree faller who, in the first year of the mid-70s drought (1974) when the big chinook were trapped in pools all over the North Coast waiting for rain to let them move upriver, bragged about killing 88 Mattole salmon over 20 pounds (he left the little ones alone). And he was just one guy. Salmon stocks, already in decline, took another nosedive after three consecutive years of this scenario -- heavy poaching on drought-stranded fish.

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6/21/10 Coho salmon in Southern Humboldt County's Mattole River are at a breaking point.

The Mattole Salmon Group counted just three adult coho in the river this winter, and only one redd, the rocky nest in which salmon lay their eggs. It's the lowest number of coho counted since the group began surveys in 2004, and far below the historical estimates of thousands of the fish.

”They're just really on the brink of extinction,” said Mattole Salmon Group Executive Director Keytra Meyer.

Meyer said that the surveys don't span the entire watershed, but she believes it's unlikely teams missed even 50 adult fish. Compounding that, Meyer said surveyors' expanded efforts to locate juvenile coho found them only in Thompson and Ancestor creeks.

The Mattole is at the southern end of the coho salmon's range. The population of fish is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, as are its salmonid cousins chinook salmon and steelhead. The health of the Mattole's coho is considered important to the survival of the evolutionarily significant unit -- a subset of the larger species.

In many California watersheds this year, coho are struggling. In the Shasta River, only nine adult coho were counted this winter, all of them males.


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7/7/10  U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Wednesday declared the entire concrete-lined Los Angeles River channel "traditional navigable waters," a designation crucial to applying Clean Water Act protections throughout its 834-square-mile urban watershed.

The designation overturned an earlier ruling by the Army Corps of Engineers that only four miles of the river were navigable, which would have made it easier to develop its upper reaches by eliminating the need for certain federal permits.

David Beckman, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, suggested that the shift could affect the way many other river systems are managed.

"The EPA's decision has been closely watched as an indicator of whether similar rivers throughout the West — dry as a bone one day, a torrent the next — would lose historical protections under the Clean Water Act," he said. "So this is great news. It means less pollution in the river and provides a vital support for community efforts to rejuvenate and restore it."

Among those listening at the news conference was Heather Wylie, a former project manager in the Ventura field office of the Army Corps of Engineers, who lost her job after kayaking down a stretch of the L.A. River in late 2008.

The expedition was in protest of the agency's ruling that year that only a small portion of the river was boat-worthy. She was suspended from her duties and eventually left the agency.

"All I did was go kayaking to make a point about Clean Water Act protections," she said. "I am grateful for the EPA stepping in and fixing this."

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6/25/10 A report released Thursday noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said.

The researchers found mercury as high as 16 parts per million in the whales. Fish high in mercury such as shark and swordfish — the types health experts warn children and pregnant women to avoid — typically have levels of about 1 part per million.

Chromium, an industrial pollutant that causes cancer in humans, was found in all but two of the 361 sperm whale samples that were tested for it.

He said another surprise was the high concentrations of aluminum, which is used in packaging, cooking pots and water treatment. Its effects are unknown.

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