EPA finds Klamath River impaired by toxic algae

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed toxins from blue-green algae as another pollutant of the Klamath River behind the hydroelectric dams that Indian tribes, fishermen and conservation groups want removed to make way for salmon.

The algae toxins in the Iron Gate and Copco reservoirs now must be considered along with other pollutants by the California Water Board as it decides whether to grant the Clean Water Act certification needed by the Portland-based utility PacifiCorp to get a new operating license for four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath.

"Now PacifiCorp will have to clean up the toxic algae in the Klamath River," said Klamath Riverkeeper Regina Chichizola, whose lawsuit against EPA led to reconsideration of the issue. "The state will have a hard time giving them certification."

The EPA finding did not point to the dams as the source of the algae toxins. That is an issue for later consideration. But it did note that toxins were found at unhealthy levels in the reservoirs behind the dams, and not in the river downstream. Low levels have been found in fish, but not enough to warn people against eating them.

Maintaining that the algae has been found in the river since before the dams, PacifiCorp spokesman Paul Vogel said the utility company did not anticipate the toxins being a significant problem to getting clean water certification.

"We see it as a part of the process, and it is certainly an issue we study," Vogel said. "We are looking at it and take it very seriously."

— The Associated Press

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