The Klamath River flows 253 miles
from Southern Oregon to the California coast, draining a basin of
more than 15,000 square miles. The watershed and its fisheries
have been the subject of negotiation since the 1860s negotiations
that have intensified and continue to this day.
The river has provided irrigation to ag lands since the late 19th
century. Agricultural development drained vast areas of
wetlands on the periphery of Upper Klamath Lake and in
upstream watersheds. Some of this drained acreage has been
restored and is now managed primarily for wetland benefits.
The watershed is divided geographically into two basins, upper
and lower, divided by Iron Gate Dam, the lower most dam on the
river. The Upper Basin is dry, with annual precipitation of about
13 inches at the river’s origin near Klamath Falls, Ore.
Downstream, the climate grows wetter.
Native Americans have a significant presence in the Klamath
Basin. Four major tribes have been influential in water
negotiations: the Klamath Tribes, the Karuk Tribe, the Hoopa
Valley Tribe and the Yurok Tribe.
The largest dam removal in U.S. history, the deconstruction of
the Klamath Dam is slated to begin this summer. The project
includes four dams along the Klamath River with the first and
smallest dam, Copco #2, scheduled for removal first. As each of
the dams are torn down, scientists and consultants will keep a
close eye on the state of the Klamath River downstream to
assess the impact of undamming the river. Shawn Hinz, managing
partner and environmental toxicologist with Gravity Consulting,
has been involved with the Klamath Dam project for over a
This time next year, a series of massive dams that block off
the Klamath River will no longer exist. The soil and rocks
originally dug and transported from a nearby mountain in the
1950s will be returned to their home and the river will run
freely again. The Iron Gate Dam, which opened in 1964 as
the last of four dams that, at nearly 200 feet tall each,
regulated the flow of the river and time releases for the local
water supply in Northern California, is now part of the world’s
largest dam removal and river restoration project. Iron Gate is
scheduled to be the final stop for decommissioning crews.
An irrigation district in the Klamath Project can no longer
divert water from the Klamath River under a state-issued water
right without approval from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, a
federal judge has determined. Reclamation sued the Klamath
Drainage District in July 2022 for taking water from the river
despite curtailments intended to protect endangered fish. The
2022 irrigation season was severely hampered in the project
following several consecutive years of drought. Reclamation
allotted just 62,000 acre-feet of water from Upper Klamath Lake
for irrigators, about 14% of full demand, including zero water
for districts with junior rights.
As new sources of renewable energy grow, there has been a
large-scale effort to remove dams that generate hydroelectric
power across the country. There are more than 90,000 dams
across the country, but only 6% of them are used to generate
electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information
Administration. Most are used for irrigation, recreation
and drinking. As we move toward a greener future, it
might seem contradictory that officials are advocating for
their removal, but the numbers show while they may be good for
energy, they’re not great for the environment or those whose
cultures rely on it. There’s a symbiotic relationship that
exists along the Klamath River in Northern California. The
Pacific Ocean feeds its existence and, in turn, the river feeds
those who call its shores home.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will
reopen the Shasta Valley Wildlife Area in Siskiyou County to
limited waterfowl hunting this season after a complete closure
the past two seasons. Although many parts of California
received record rainfall and snowpack during the winter and
spring of 2022-23, northeastern California remained
comparatively dry. As a result, only dry field hunting will be
allowed for waterfowl hunting this season at the Shasta Valley
Wildlife Area. The Northeastern Zone waterfowl season runs from
Oct. 7, 2023, through Jan. 17, 2024. Hunting at the Shasta
Valley Wildlife Area will be allowed on Wednesdays, Saturdays
and Sundays throughout the season.
The collapse of two dams in Libya, unleashing torrential
floodwaters that left at least 3,000 people dead and over 4,200
still missing, was both predicted and preventable. And they
won’t be the last big dams to collapse … In the United
States, the second most prolific dam-builder after China, the
average age of dams is 65 years old and an estimated 2,200
structures are at high risk of collapse. … The fact
that it’s increasingly difficult to justify many dams’
existence is one reason there is a growing movement, often led
by Indigenous peoples and other marginalized populations, to
remove them. Most notably, the removal of four dams on
the Klamath River along the Oregon-California border,
set to be completed next year, will be the largest such effort
in history. -Written by Josh Klemm and Isabella
Winkler, co-directors of International Rivers, a group
that advocates for healthy rivers and the rights of river
A magistrate judge in Oregon sided with the Klamath Tribes on
Monday in finding that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation violated
the Endangered Species Act by misallocating limited water
supplies from the Upper Klamath Lake, harming endangered sucker
fish and other aquatic wildlife. In the 52-page findings and
recommendation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke found the
central question is whether the federal government broke the
law by allocating water for irrigation when it knew it could
not comply with its Endangered Species Act obligations to
endangered sucker fish in the Upper Klamath Lake, a freshwater
reservoir in the southern Oregon portion of the Klamath Basin.
The Morris Graves Museum of Art, at 636 F St., Eureka, will
hold a closing celebration of Becky Evans’ Installation “30,000
Salmon” on Sept. 17 from 2 to 4 p.m. Museum-goers will hear a
dozen poems about rivers and dams, water and power, spawning
and dying, salmon and community, and half a century of life
upriver and downriver and on Humboldt Bay by Jerry Martien.
Martien will be accompanied by Becky Evans, Fred Neighbor
(guitar), Gary Richardson (bass) and Mike Labolle (percussion
and trumpet). … Engaging educators, students, community
members and artists, the project culminated in an installation
of 30,000 objects depicting or symbolizing the fish die off on
the Klamath River, which was exhibited at the First Street
Gallery in 2004.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will not curtail water to the
Klamath Project in Southern Oregon and Northern California,
despite an earlier warning to irrigators that cutbacks might be
necessary to satisfy protections for endangered fish.
… The reversal is “due to improved hydrology in the
Klamath Basin over the last two weeks; opportunities for Upper
Klamath Lake water conservation this fall and winter; and
coordination with tribal partners and water users,” according
Melodie Meyer is associate general counsel for the Yurok Tribe
in Northern California—one of the few California tribes whose
members still reside on a portion of their ancestral lands. The
Yurok reservation borders a 44-mile stretch of the Klamath
River; we asked Ms. Meyer to tell us more about efforts to
protect the watershed. The Tribe’s water programs center
around managing water quality—ensuring that the tributaries
that drain into the Klamath are healthy and not polluted. The
environmental department’s water division has staff dedicated
to dealing with permitting for the water programs, as well as a
water quality control plan and a water pollution control
The largest wildfire currently burning in the United States is
raging in California’s densely forested northwest corner. The
Smith River Complex — actually a cluster of connected blazes —
covered a total of 79,000 acres and was only 7 percent
contained as of Wednesday evening. The fire began on Aug. 15
with a storm that scattered lightning strikes across the Six
Rivers National Forest in Del Norte County, just south of the
Oregon border. Since then, the fire has crossed into Oregon,
closed roads, forced power outages that lasted days, and
delayed the start of the school year for roughly 4,000 students
in Del Norte County’s public schools. On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin
Newsom declared a state of emergency for the county, where the
air quality has been abysmal for days and hundreds of people
are still under evacuation orders.
Oshun O’Rourke waded into the dark green water, splashing
toward a net that her colleagues gently closed around a cluster
of finger-length fish. The Klamath River is wide and still
here, making its final turn north to the coast as it winds
through the Yurok reservation in Humboldt County. About 150
baby chinook salmon, on their long journey to the Pacific, were
resting in cool waters that poured down from the forest.
… For more than a hundred years, dams
have stilled the Klamath’s flows, jeopardizing the salmon
and other fish, and creating ideal conditions for the
parasite to spread. But now these vestiges of an
early 20th-century approach to water and power are
being dismantled: The world’s largest dam removal
project is now underway on the Klamath River.
Water users in the Klamath Project may lose their remaining
water allocations following a warning from the Bureau of
Reclamation sent out last Friday. The letter tells irrigators
“… there is projected to be a shortfall in the Sept. 30 Upper
Klamath Lake elevation of 4139.2 feet that was identified in
the May 18, 2023, update to the 2023 Annual Operation Plan.
This situation is likely to require a reduction in project
water supply in order to minimize or eliminate the shortfall.”
The letter from Reclamation said the department will continue
to explore actions to mitigate any reductions, but encourages
contract holders to conserve their supplies.
Salmon fishers across the state are pivoting to stay afloat
after the salmon fishing season was canceled earlier this
year. At dock 47 in San Francisco, the pier looks
different this time of year. More boats are tied up, an unusual
sight for what would be peak salmon season. “It hurts all
the way around,” Matt Juanes told CBS News Bay Area.
… But this year, the salmon fisher of 8 years is
exploring uncharted territory for him. He’s now looking to
catch shrimp and halibut after salmon season was canceled for
repopulation efforts. … The impact goes beyond the
fishermen and their families. California is projected to lose
$460 million from the closure with more than 20,000 jobs
impacted. Officials say the closure was necessary to
sustain the population after years of drought made the state’s
water supply unsustainable for salmon eggs that require cooler
water to survive. But experts say we could see future closures
unless water is reserved for the fish.
The Yurok Tribe’s annual salmon festival in Klamath,
California, is a little different this year. Yes, there’s a
noisy parade, yes there are dozens of stalls selling T-shirts
and jewelry, yes there are kids wrestling it out in a
traditional stick game and yes there is plenty of
food. But for only the second time in the 59-year history
of the celebration, salmon is not being served. … Salmon
are central to the Yurok, whose territory stretches 40 miles or
so up the Klamath River from this beautiful, rugged coast.
… The Yurok have stopped fishing for salmon, hoping it
will help the devastated population bounce back. Hence, the
lack of salmon to eat at the festival.
The Klamath River Basin was once one
of the world’s most ecologically magnificent regions, a watershed
teeming with salmon, migratory birds and wildlife that thrived
alongside Native American communities. The river flowed rapidly
from its headwaters in southern Oregon’s high deserts into Upper
Klamath Lake, collected snowmelt along a narrow gorge through the
Cascades, then raced downhill to the California coast in a misty,
California is chock full of rivers and creeks, yet the state’s network of stream gauges has significant gaps that limit real-time tracking of how much water is flowing downstream, information that is vital for flood protection, forecasting water supplies and knowing what the future might bring.
That network of stream gauges got a big boost Sept. 30 with the signing of SB 19. Authored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the law requires the state to develop a stream gauge deployment plan, focusing on reactivating existing gauges that have been offline for lack of funding and other reasons. Nearly half of California’s stream gauges are dormant.
In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling extended the public trust doctrine to tributary creeks that feed Mono Lake, which is a navigable water body even though the creeks themselves were not. The ruling marked a dramatic shift in water law and forced Los Angeles to cut back its take of water from those creeks in the Eastern Sierra to preserve the lake.
Now, a state appellate court has for the first time extended that same public trust doctrine to groundwater that feeds a navigable river, in this case the Scott River flowing through a picturesque valley of farms and alfalfa in Siskiyou County in the northern reaches of California.
Headwaters are the source of a
stream or river. They are located at the furthest point from
where the water body empties or merges with
another. Two-thirds of California’s surface water supply
originates in these mountainous and typically forested regions.
Mired in drought, expectations are high that new storage funded
by Prop. 1 will be constructed to help California weather the
adverse conditions and keep water flowing to homes and farms.
At the same time, there are some dams in the state eyed for
removal because they are obsolete – choked by accumulated
sediment, seismically vulnerable and out of compliance with
federal regulations that require environmental balance.
20-minute version of the 2012 documentary The Klamath Basin: A
Restoration for the Ages. This DVD is ideal for showing at
community forums and speaking engagements to help the public
understand the complex issues related to complex water management
disputes in the Klamath River Basin. Narrated by actress Frances
For over a century, the Klamath River Basin along the Oregon and
California border has faced complex water management disputes. As
relayed in this 2012, 60-minute public television documentary
narrated by actress Frances Fisher, the water interests range
from the Tribes near the river, to energy producer PacifiCorp,
farmers, municipalities, commercial fishermen, environmentalists
– all bearing legitimate arguments for how to manage the water.
After years of fighting, a groundbreaking compromise may soon
settle the battles with two epic agreements that hold the promise
of peace and fish for the watershed. View an excerpt from the
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership
with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an
excellent overview of climate change and how it is already
affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists
anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and
precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are
underway to plan and adapt to climate.
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays
the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas
and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The
map text explains the many issues facing this vast,
15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration;
agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are
descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement,
and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development
of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect
gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the
definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the
state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s
natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts
– including federally, state and locally funded
projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and
natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of
California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects,
wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the
text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water
projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado
The Pacific Flyway is one of four
major North American migration routes for birds, especially
waterfowl, and extends from Alaska and Canada, through
California, to Mexico and South America. Each year, birds follow
ancestral patterns as they travel the flyway on their annual
north-south migration. Along the way, they need stopover sites
such as wetlands with suitable habitat and food supplies. In
California, 90 percent of historic wetlands have been lost.
On the Klamath River, the Upper Klamath Basin’s aquatic
ecosystems are naturally very productive due to its
However, this high productivity makes the Basin’s lakes
vulnerable to water quality problems.
Nutrient loads in the Upper Klamath Basin are a primary driver of
water quality problems along the length of the Klamath River,
including algal blooms in the Klamath Hydroelectric Project
reservoirs. Municipal and industrial discharges of wastewater in
the Klamath Falls area add to the nutrient load.
This issue of Western Water examines the challenges facing state,
federal and tribal officials and other stakeholders as they work
to manage terminal lakes. It includes background information on
the formation of these lakes, and overviews of the water quality,
habitat and political issues surrounding these distinctive bodies
of water. Much of the information in this article originated at
the September 2004 StateManagement Issues at Terminal Water
Bodies/Closed Basins conference.
The story of the Klamath River is the story of two basins.
In the upper basin, farming has long been the way of life. Even
before passage of the 1902 Reclamation Act, settlers had begun
the arduous process of reclaiming vast tracts of wetlands and
transforming them into rich farmland.