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LR Letter
November 15, 2004

Comments: DEIS Flaming Gorge Dam

November 15, 2004

Mr. Peter Crookston
Bureau of Reclamation
Provo Area Office
302 East 1860 South
Provo, Utah 84606

RE: Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Statement on operations at Flaming Gorge Dam

Dear Mr. Crookston,

Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper submit the following comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the re-operation of Flaming Gorge Dam to benefit endangered fish, as released on September 7, 2004.

While the four-year effort to produce this document has proved useful in generating a better understanding of the challenges facing the recovery of endangered fish below Flaming Gorge Dam, the analysis is not yet sufficient to support the proposed action. The water supply and hydrograph assumptions do not correlate with present trends. The role of endangered fish recovery relative to other operational objectives has yet to be properly clarified. The proposed action fails to address the pitfalls in the structure and mandate associated with the proposed Adaptive Management Program as experienced with Reclamation’s recovery efforts for endangered fish at Grand Canyon. The DEIS did not properly review the merits of recovery efforts through a dam decommissioning alternative. Lastly, as noted in our scoping comments of July, 2000, Colorado River endangered fish recovery should be tiered to a programmatic EIS that evaluates recovery needs and barriers throughout the historic range of these endangered fish species. We hope these matters will be properly addressed prior to completion of the Final EIS (FEIS).

1. Water availability

The DEIS failed to sufficiently address how long-term water availability will impact fish recovery in the lower Green River, and as a result did not sufficiently demonstrate whether the proposed recovery efforts can be successful in this limited stretch of river.

Flow scenarios did not take into consideration the prospect of how climate change will affect river flows. The present drought has demonstrated that flows may be significantly lower than forecasted as precipitation patterns for the Green River watershed may be changing. The Department of Energy has forecasted how western rivers as a whole may experience a 30 percent reduction in flows over the next 50 years due to climate change.

2. Action Alternative is not consistent with the natural hydrograph

The DEIS acknowledges the recommendation to manage the recovery of endangered fish species on a dam-controlled river by mimicking the historic natural hydrograph and thermograph, as much as possible. We believe that the flow recommendations of the DEIS departs from this prescribed treatment. We believe the spring peak flow of the Action Alternative is much reduced and therefore diminishes the success in achieving the goal to recover endangered fish. We also believe that the Action Alternative’s base flow, from the summer to winter season, is higher than the historic hydrograph and too does not reflect compliance with the biological data.

Furthermore, instead of timing releases from Flaming Gorge Dam with the natural flow of the Green River, the flow recommendation of the Action Alternative is timed to meet the natural hydrograph of the Yampa River, a tributary of the Green River downstream of the dam. We believe this too diminishes the recovery of endangered fish in the Green River, especially in Reach One (Flaming Gorge Dam to the confluence with the Yampa River).

We believe the DEIS overlooked the benefits associated with the Run of the River Alternative, as suggested by the National Park Service. We encourage Reclamation to scrutinize further the possibilities of implementing such an action plan. We believe strongly that matching the historic attributes of the river is what will eventually provide a greater measure of success in the recovery of endangered fish species, until which time the dam can and will be successfully decommissioned, as is enevitable.

3. Clarify the priority of satisfying the Endangered Species Act

The DEIS sometimes refers to the recovery of endangered fish as distinct from the authorized purposes of Flaming Gorge Dam (Sec.1.1). At other times the DEIS implies that the authorized purpose of Flaming Gorge Dam does include the improvement of critical habitat for fish and wildlife. The FEIS must make clear that fish recovery is paramount as the Bureau of Reclamation must comply with the Endangered Species Act first and foremost, then allow for other dam operational benefits to be pursued accordingly.

4. Adaptive Management Program protocols

The DEIS indicates that the Action Alternative includes the implementation of an Adaptive Management Program concerning the future operations at Flaming Gorge Dam. This program will consist of the Flaming Gorge Working Group and a Technical Working Group. The purpose of the Flaming Gorge Working Group is to provide a check and balance system for the purposes that authorized Flaming Gorge Dam, including the recovery of endangered fish. The purpose of the Technical Working Group is to provide scientific expertise for the program.

Such a program has been underway for nearly ten years at Glen Canyon Dam, but the results have been disastrous. One more species has gone extinct, the Razorback Sucker, and the Humpback Chub has declined to nearly irreversible numbers. This has occurred for the lack of: a) a clear mandate for independent, peer-reviewed science that is removed from politics, b) to guide the decision making process by placing fish recovery at a priority below power generation, c) not ensuring there are sufficient funds to operate the program.

Reclamation must identify how the Flaming Gorge Dam Adaptive Management Program will avoid the pitfalls that have plagued the program at Grand Canyon.

Reclamation must also outline how this program will address uncertainties associated with the operations at Flaming Gorge Dam, and how future supplemental National Environmental Policy Act compliance will be required.

We believe that such uncertainties could include, but not limited to: progressive global warming, extended and prolonged drought, extreme flood events, higher sediment transport, increased human consumption, modifying selective withdrawal (temperature control), and the control and removal of exotic fish.

This should also include a call by the Lower Basin to deliver the minimal annual requirement of 8.23 million acre-feet at the Compact Point (Lee’s Ferry, Arizona). As well as dam operations that further compromise the ecosystem values that authorized the creation of Dinosaur National Monument, Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, and Canyonlands National Park.

We also believe that another management decision of the immediate future should include a fish passage at the Tusher Wash Diversion Dam near Green River, Utah. This would include a device that prevents mortality of endangered fish from entrapment in the irrigation and hydropower projects associated with this diversion dam.

Therefore, we do expect that the working groups and the general public will have comprehensive access to all information that pertains to the operations of the Green River and Flaming Gorge Dam. This should be accomplished through the web pages of the Bureau of Reclamation and through a regular newsletter that is mailed to all interested parties.

For the agencies, scientists and the general public to be well informed, it is imperative that all program information is made available promptly and that this information is disseminated liberally and is not discretionary. It is also imperative that adequate time be allowed for the public to process this information in a timely manner so as to maximize public outreach opportunities in the NEPA decision making process.

5. The Decommissioning Alternative

The DEIS dismissed the decommissioning alternative without sufficient justification or analysis, other than to say, "[decommissioning] does not meet the purpose and need for the proposed action." The principle objective in fish recovery programs is to restore natural processes, which include seasonal flows, temperature, sediment, nutrients and migration.

Decommissioning Flaming Gorge Dam can best meet these objectives and thus should be thoroughly evaluated. While the dam makes some contributions to water storage, power generation and recreation, these contributions are not significant regionally, and are replaceable, whereas the endangered fish are not.

The DEIS also did not fully evaluate the potential for dam failure, and the impacts this may have on endangered fish recovery, as well as other downstream impacts to Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park.

6. Basin-wide concerns

Reclamation continues to address fish recovery in the Colorado River watershed in a piecemeal fashion without consideration of the natural species’ range, or macro-social and environmental changes that may be affecting the watershed. It’s critical for Reclamation to develop a programmatic EIS involving all the recovery needs of endangered fish species in the watershed and the best approaches to resolve them.

We believe the overarching problems that must be thoroughly studied in such a system wide, programmatic approach would include, but not limited to:

• Diminished water supply and water quality • Increased water demand • Over allocation of water rights • Quantifying the water rights of the First Nations • Impacts to national wildlife refuges, parks and monuments (including the international biosphere at the Colorado River delta) • Removal of exotic species • Sedimentation in the reservoirs • Dam safety • Modernizing the Law of the River • Alternative energy production and conservation • Water storage and conservation alternatives

We believe such a study would show conclusively that the Colorado River system would benefit by having some of its infrastructure removed and that alternative storage strategies, such as the artificial recharge in depleted aquifers, can provide:

• Increased habitat for endangered species • Restore the natural attributes of the river and its tributaries • Reduce water loss from evaporation • Reduce salinity • Provide protection from extended drought • Eliminate the consequences of high dam failure • Prompt a sediment management plan

7. Closing statement

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the DEIS for Flaming Gorge Dam. We encourage the Bureau of Reclamation to proceed in producing a Final Environmental Impact Statement and we look forward to the subsequent Record of Decision. Please feel free to contact us at any time should you require any additional information or assistance from us.

Sincerely yours,

John Weisheit
Living Rivers, conservation director
Colorado Riverkeeper

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