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.
We are excited to share that the Twenty-First Century Dams Act
was introduced this month on July 15, 2021. This bill would
invest $21.1 billion to enhance the safety, grid resilience
benefits, and power generating capacity of America’s dams and
provide historic funding to remove dams that are no longer
It’s sometimes thought that worsening wildfires, droughts and
farming conditions — products of climate change — will lead to
more conflicts and extremism, including in the West. Imagine a
repeat of lawless mobs confronting and terrorizing federal land
managers, as occurred at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
in 2016, and could happen again amid the Klamath Basin water
crisis… -Written by Stuart Leavenworth, LA Times’ California
The plan to remove four Klamath River dams checked another box
on Tuesday as Oregon utility regulators signed off on
transferring ownership of the dams from Portland-based
PacifiCorp to the nonprofit that will carry out the project.
Oregon Public Utility Commission staff found that a
cost/benefit analysis from 2010 “remains valid, and still
reflects a public interest in the removal of the dams as
compared to the costs and risks of relicensing.” The project,
billed as the largest dam removal in U.S. history, is expected
to cost $450 million…
“Bleak” and “grim” were words frequently used Tuesday morning
as part of a joint legislative hearing on the crisis in
California’s salmon fisheries amid the historic drought. How
bad it is during the current drought in the West, however, was
up for debate. “There is no way that this year isn’t going to
be worse than it was in 2014-15, when we saw 95% (of salmon)
dying off,” said North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire, who was
the chair of the hearing.
Facing another summer of catastrophic fish kills, California
lawmakers and fisheries managers on Tuesday blamed a Trump-era
water policy and climate change for the sizzling water
temperatures threatening to erase an entire run of Chinook
salmon. … Chinook salmon die-offs on the state’s rivers have
happened routinely over the last two decades. But a pending
disaster on the Sacramento and Klamath rivers has elected
officials, regulators, Native American tribes and fishermen
scrambling to save the keystone species from extinction.
Ben DuVal knelt in a barren field near the California-Oregon
state line and scooped up a handful of parched soil as dust
devils whirled around him and birds flitted between empty
irrigation pipes. DuVal’s family has farmed the land for three
generations, and this summer, for the first time ever, he and
hundreds of others who rely on irrigation from a depleted,
federally managed lake aren’t getting any water from it at all.
… [T]his summer there is simply not enough, and the
farmers, tribes and wildlife refuges that have long competed
for every drop now face a bleak and uncertain future together.
The news reports about the California salmon wipeout got a good
chunk of the story right: Record-breaking heat waves made
Northern California rivers too warm to sustain migrating
Chinook salmon, and virtually all of the salmon in the
Sacramento River this summer have died, or will die, before
reproducing. Any eggs that were successfully laid, or the fry
hatched from those eggs, are also likely doomed. So a
generation of the rare and endangered winter-run Chinook, and
the spring-run as well, are virtually gone.
On July 2, 2021, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals
issued an important decision regarding Section 401 of the Clean
Water Act, overturning an Order by the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC’s Order had found that
the state of North Carolina had unlawfully “coordinated” with
the license applicant to delay the state’s certification that a
new FERC license for the Bynum hydroelectric project complied
with state water quality laws. FERC found that North
Carolina’s participation in the delay meant that the state had
“waived” its authority under Section 401 to issue the
Extreme and prolonged drought in the American west is prompting
water thieves to tap into other people’s scarce supplies. More
than 12bn gallons of water have been stolen in California in
the past eight years, according to state officials, but the
issue has been further exacerbated by the ongoing drought and
recent searing early summer heatwaves. A significant
amount of recent water theft has been blamed by the authorities
on illegal cannabis cultivation in some parts of the state.
Baby salmon are dying by the thousands in one California river,
and an entire run of endangered salmon could be wiped out in
another. Fishermen who make their living off adult salmon, once
they enter the Pacific Ocean, are sounding the alarm as
blistering heat waves and extended drought in the U.S. West
raise water temperatures and imperil fish from Idaho to
California. Hundreds of thousands of young salmon
are dying in Northern California’s Klamath River as
low water levels brought about by drought allow a parasite to
thrive, devastating a Native American tribe whose diet and
traditions are tied to the fish.
The Klamath water rights issue dates back decades and is as
complex and nuanced as it is lengthy but when boiled down it
seems to come back to one primal animal instinct that all
living beings share: to ensure the survival of our spawn. For
the Lost River and Shortnose Suckerfish in the Klamath basin,
that continuum was disturbed somewhere along the line. The
adult fish are healthy but aging while their spawn has been
failing to thrive. Pending on their survival are the identity,
traditions, culture, and livelihood of the Klamath tribes.
In the town of Happy Valley, residents are dealing with a
crisis. California is experiencing an extreme drought, and
Happy Valley says there is a meager amount of water left in the
community. Coleen Wogoman, a resident of Happy Valley said
their small farm, Wogoman’s Farm, is struggling to stay afloat
as the lack of water striking hard for her family and their
livestock. A mix of emotions is expressed from Wogoman as she
looks upon her farmland and home for over 15 years.
As humans struggle with the drought, wildlife has an even
harder time adapting. Siskiyou County’s deer, elk, bear,
bobcat, mountain lion and bird populations are in danger
as creeks dry up and lakes evaporate into hot
air. That’s where guzzlers come in. These
large plastic or aluminum water collection devices – 240
of them – are scattered throughout the Klamath and
Shasta-Trinity national forests in Siskiyou County. When it
rains, water is collected in the tanks … which
allows thirsty wildlife to step down and reach the water.
Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen today announced
Jennifer Eberlien as regional forester for the Pacific
Southwest Region. Eberlien replaces incoming Chief Randy
Moore who has served as regional forester in the Pacific
Southwest Region since 2007. Eberlien will oversee 18 national
forests in California, which include 20 million acres covering
the North Coast, Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges and from Big
Sur to the Mexican border in the South Coast range.
Additionally, she will oversee state and private forestry
programs in Hawaii and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands.
It’s a strange place to find fish, deep in the high desert,
where drought-baked earth butts against scrubby mountains. But
water spews from the hot springs on Ron Barnes’ land near the
California-Oregon border, pure and perfect for rearing c’waam
and koptu, two kinds of endangered suckerfish sacred to Native
American tribes. Barnes, who holds an advanced degree in
aquaculture from UC Davis, has dug dozens of ponds on his
property and filled them with thousands of young suckerfish.
The EPA has reported several dog and livestock deaths due to
toxic algae blooms found in riverbeds. A researcher from UNR is
examining what conditions cause these blooms. … [Joanna
Blaszczak, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada,
Reno,] has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science
Foundation. Her research will be focused on three rivers in
Northern California and will be conducted through 2023.
A 500 MW pumped energy storage project proposed jointly by the
City of San Diego and the San Diego County Water Authority
received $18 million in the California state budget. The
support will help fund the San Vicente Energy Storage
Facility through initial design, environmental reviews,
and the federal licensing process. The project … could
generate revenue to help offset the cost of water purchases,
storage, and treatment.
An international team of weather and climate experts known as
the “World Weather Attribution” project has analyzed the late
June heatwave in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and come to a
preliminary conclusion that the event was a roughly
1-in-1,000-year event in today’s climate. (The results are
preliminary because, while the methods the experts used have
been applied to many other published studies like this, this
specific analysis has not yet been formally reviewed by other
experts.) If they are correct, it would have been at least 150
times rarer before global warming.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is asking
recreational anglers to voluntarily change how, when and where
they fish to minimize stress and mortality among fish
populations suffering from drought conditions. CDFW is advising
anglers not to fish past noon on certain inland waters as even
catch-and-release angling during the hottest parts of the day
can greatly increase fish stress and mortality.
… Coldwater species such as trout, salmon and steelhead
have the greatest likelihood of being affected by the drought
this year but low water levels and high-water temperatures can
potentially affect all inland aquatic species.
California’s ongoing drought and predicted heatwave is causing
overly warm and low level waters and threatening to kill off
the entire populations of already endangered species like the
chinook salmon. Negotiations between the State Water Resources
Control Board and the federal Bureau of Reclamation approved a
plan for managing water levels. However, experts predict that
releasing water into the irrigation system this early will
disrupt salmon spawning season and could kill as many as 88% of
the salmon in the river.
Millions of waterfowl and other birds are going to have a tough
year due to the ongoing drought in the West. Not only is there
less water for ducks and geese, but the agriculture fields
these migrating birds depend on for food will be significantly
smaller, which means less waste grain. … That
potentially can negatively impact Pacific Flyway waterfowl
flights and hunting this year. Farmers report only 25
percent of the fields usually flooded in autumn will have
water. With reduced water, ducks and geese are impacted. They
concentrate more and diseases and bacteria can spread more
readily, including bird botulism.
Joey Gentry hesitates before she drives through the fields of
alfalfa and wheat that line the roads in the Klamath
Basin. ”It’s not safe for Natives to be out in farmland
during a drought year,” [Gentry said.] Like much of the
American West, this dry, hilly, high-elevation landscape
straddling the California-Oregon border is experiencing a
summer of extreme drought. But when the federal government
announced in May that, for the first time ever, it would cut
irrigation water to about 180,000 acres of agriculture in the
basin, tensions ignited between farmers and the Klamath tribes.
For the first time in its 55 year history, the Iron Gate fish
hatchery, which raises salmon and steelhead, will not release
its salmon smolts into the Klamath River this summer. Due to
poor water conditions and an increase in a parasite called C.
Shasta in the river, the hatchery, located in Hornbrook,
California, will keep the tiny fish until fall. Now, the
hatchery is dealing with the logistics of moving millions of
fish to other facilities because they cannot accommodate all of
the growing salmon.
While algae growing in our lakes, ponds and reservoirs can be
quite visible, the algae in many of our rivers and their
tributaries is often not so obvious, lurking on the bottom of
the rivers, and clinging to rocks. Yet, some of these riverbed
blue-green algae, referred to as “cyanobacteria,” can create
algal blooms that produce toxins harmful not only to aquatic
life, but also to pets, livestock and humans. University of
Nevada, Reno Assistant Professor Joanna Blaszczak is conducting
research to identify the specific conditions conducive to
producing these blooms and their toxins…
Due to drought and poor water conditions in the Klamath River,
the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)
successfully relocated 1.1 million juvenile, fall-run Chinook
salmon from its Iron Gate Fish Hatchery in Siskiyou County. The
fish were trucked to a nearby satellite facility and to the
Trinity River Hatchery 122 miles away where the fish will
remain until conditions in the Klamath River improve.
Climate change is exacerbating droughts and accelerating the
transformation and decline of California’s native forest and
aquatic ecosystems. As a state, we are poorly organized to
manage these effects, which need extensive focused
preparation. We need to adapt (and we will make mistakes
in doing so). Our human, economic and environmental losses
will be much greater, however, if we manage poorly because of
delay, complacency or panic. -Written by Jay Lund, professor of civil and
environmental engineering at the University of California at
The lower Klamath River and the redwoods, which grow nowhere
else on Earth, are at the heart of Yurok culture. The tribe’s
reservation follows the river for its last 44 miles and extends
one mile from each bank, just broad enough to accommodate
dozens of tiny, remote villages and the modest town of Klamath
along the 101. The west end of the reservation is surrounded
by Redwood National and State Parks. I wanted quality
time on the water and under tall trees, but I also wanted to
learn more about a people who were navigating this river
thousands of years before the first Gold Rush prospectors
Today the Karuk Tribe filed a formal petition with the
California State Water Resources Control Board demanding that
it use its emergency powers to curtail water use in the Scott
River to prevent the extinction of the Southern Oregon-
Northern California Coho Salmon (Coho). … The Scott
River is home to most of the native Coho salmon left
in the Klamath Basin. Coho were added to the endangered species
list in 1997. While federal agencies have forced water users on
the federal Klamath Irrigation Project along the
California/Oregon border to allow downstream flows to protect
the fish, other water users’ impacts have been ignored.
A pair of governors on Sunday called on the federal government
for help and pushed for solutions as their states grapple with
recording-breaking temperatures, drought and wildfires that
officials have said is being driven by climate change.
… The bipartisan plea follows a meeting last
week between President Joe Biden and other Western governors
during which he announced new federal response plans to help
address the wildfire threats and extreme heat being driven by
climate change. They include extending seasonal hiring, adding
“surge capacity” by training and equipping additional
personnel, and adding fire detection resources.
Except for a brief stint in the military, Paul Crawford has
spent his entire life farming in southern Oregon. First,
as a boy, chasing his dad through hayfields and now, growing
alfalfa on his own farm with his wife and two kids, who want to
grow up to be farmers. … The American west is drying out
as the region faces an unprecedented drought. Few places
are as devastated as the Klamath Basin, where Crawford’s farm
sits. Straddling the border between California and Oregon, the
watershed spans 12,000sq miles – from agricultural lands fed by
Upper Klamath Lake to tribal communities surrounding the
Skiers and snowboarders pray for snow so they can shred the
slopes. Climatologists and hydrologists have an entirely
different and more critical reason to cross their fingers for
the “white gold.” The West’s historic drought has many impacts,
including water shortages, more severe wildfire seasons and
unprecedented heat waves, to name a few. Intense droughts are a
result of many factors, one of which scientists have recently
begun to analyze with more scrutiny: snow drought.
With a record-shattering heat wave suffocating much of the
Pacific Northwest and a drought-fueled wildfire season already
well underway in New Mexico, Arizona and California, President
Biden will attend a virtual meeting with leaders of Western
states on Wednesday to discuss strategies to minimize
weather-related disasters this summer. Jen Psaki, the White
House press secretary, told reporters that the president
planned to bring together members of his cabinet and the
Western governors to assess “the devastating intersection of
drought, heat, and wildfires,” as well as “prevention,
preparedness, and response efforts for this wildfire season.”
In the drought-stricken Klamath Basin along the
California-Oregon border, water is precious. This year, Native
American tribes and farmers are competing for this shrinking
resource. It’s an indicator of future water wars in the West.
Jefferson Public Radio’s Erik Neumann explains.
At almost 30 miles long, Upper Klamath Lake is the home to
several types of fish that live only here. Two of them are
called C’waam and Koptu in the Klamath Tribes’ traditional
language or, in English, the Lost River and shortnose sucker.
They have a stubby face and wide lips, and can live to be
50-years-old. … In recent years, the juvenile fish have been
dying, causing the overall population to crash. Five years ago,
when Gonyaw started working for the tribes, there were about
20,000 shortnose suckers in the lake. Estimates today put them
at just 3,400. The Lost River sucker is disappearing at a
As the West contends with sweltering conditions and
record-breaking heat, firefighters on Monday were battling
three large wildfires in Kern, Siskiyou and San Bernardino
counties. By Monday afternoon, 8,000 to 10,000 residents were
under evacuation orders for the Lava fire, according to
Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue. The fire was sparked by
lightning Saturday morning in the Shasta-Trinity National
Forest in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border. It was “very
active” overnight, Shasta-Trinity National Forest spokeswoman
Suzi Johnson said, and had mushroomed to 1,446 acres with 20%
containment by Monday morning.
Climate change has plunged the Western U.S. into its worst
drought in two decades. And a record-breaking heat wave only
made things worse. In Arizona and Nevada, it’s been so hot that
doctors warned people they could get third-degree burns from
the asphalt. Wildfires raged in Montana and Utah. Power grids
in Texas strained as officials asked residents to limit
appliance use to avoid blackouts. The levels in Lake Mead,
which supplies water for millions of people, are at their
lowest since the 1930s.
An ongoing fish kill has been plaguing the Klamath River since
early May. The Klamath flows through Oregon and northern
California, and like many water sources in the West, has seen
water levels drop considerably due to extreme drought. A lower
river means a slower and warmer river, which is what some
parasites need to thrive. The parasite C.Shasta is expected to
kill off nearly all of this year’s juvenile Chinook salmon in
In the 1950s, when University of California forestry professor
Harold Biswell experimented with prescribed burns in the
state’s pine forests, many people thought he was nuts. “Harry
the Torch,” “Burn-Em-Up Biswell” and “Doctor Burnwell” were
some of his nicknames from critics, who included federal and
state foresters and timber groups. Six decades after Biswell
preached an unpopular message to those who advocated full-on
fire suppression, he is seen not as crazy but someone whose
ideas could save the U.S. West’s forests and ease wildfire
For decades, an agonizing war over [water] has divided
indigenous people and the descendants of settlers of [the
Klamath basin], which like much of the American West, is now
plagued by drought. Family farmers often describe the conflict
as one that pits them against federal bureaucrats who protect
the suckerfish, imperiled as the lake grows more inhospitable.
That portrayal, say members of the tribes, dismisses a tougher
truth … about race, equity and generational trauma to a
people whose history includes slaughter, forced removal of
children, federal termination of their tribal status and loss
of land …
[T]he problem goes way beyond grazing. Dozens of tributaries
and hundreds of springs feed Upper Klamath Lake, supplying
plenty of good, clean water. A century of mismanagement has
caused erosion of high phosphorus soils that accumulate in the
bottom of Upper Klamath Lake. Now, annual algae blooms kill
entire generations of young endangered fish every year.
… All the problems in the Upper Klamath Lake flow
downstream, affecting endangered salmon in the Klamath River as
it runs to the Pacific Ocean. The Karuk, a Klamath River tribe,
are worried that this could be another year marked by a
historic fish kill.
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.