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.
Tensions rose close to the boiling point early this summer amid
a historic water shutoff in the Klamath Basin. Since then,
irrigators in the Klamath Project have spent the growing season
trying to make the most of a summer with no surface water from
Upper Klamath Lake. Jefferson Public Radio spoke with farmers
leading up to the Klamath Water Users Association’s annual
harvest tour last month. As the town of Merrill hosts the 84th
annual Klamath Basin Potato Festival this weekend, JPR looks at
the harvest for the Project’s driest year on record.
For millennia, Native Americans watched [salmon] enter the
Klamath River. The tribes celebrated them as a gift from the
gods, but the fish numbers dwindled…. Huge dams … blocked
the fish from their upstream spawning grounds and slowed the
Klamath in torpid reservoirs. Now humanity is set to surrender
much of the river back to nature. Four large dams on the
Klamath River are due to be torn down in what is called the
largest dam removal project in American history.
We need a dramatic shift in our efforts to curb wildfires in
California. Instead of reacting to wildfires, we need to
utilize the knowledge of Indigenous people on managing the
land. When it comes to fire prevention, the wisdom of
Indigenous tribes like the Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa and Wintun is
unparalleled. … Thoughtful prescribed burns with
low-intensity fire were carried out on the land for thousands
of years to keep fire, food and water resources in
harmony. -Written by Chelsi Sparti, a member of the
Winnemem, Nomtipom and Nomsus bands of the Northern Wintu
People; and Chris Villarruel, a member of the Ajumawi band
of the Pit River Nation.
The U.S. government is challenging an order from Oregon water
regulators that forbids water releases from Upper Klamath Lake
to boost flows in the Klamath River. The legal dispute pits the
enforcement of state water rights against the federal
government’s obligation to operate the Klamath irrigation
project in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. To
improve stream conditions for threatened salmon in the Klamath
river, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation releases water through
its Link River Dam under an operations plan for the irrigation
Today Save California Salmon released its first episode of the
Western Water Justice podcast, “Envisioning Justice on the
Klamath River with Dr. Cutcha Risling-Baldy”. The first episode
of the podcast was released today in honor of indigenous
People’s Day, according to Save California Salmon.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation has pledged another $5
million toward drought relief in the Klamath Basin as farmers
and other stakeholders in the region continue to grapple with a
major shortage of water. Reclamation previously awarded $15
million toward the Klamath Project Drought Response
Agency, and the additional $5 million will join those funds.
KPDRA is tasked with distributing the fund to irrigators in
Oregon and California who are without an external water supply
due to the drought.
The Yurok reservation where [Georgiana] Gensaw lives sits on a
remote strip of land that snakes shoulder to shoulder with the
final 44 miles of the Klamath River alongside the misty
Northern California coast. In 2001, drought descended on the
Klamath Basin, the watershed that feeds the river. Due to a
history of water mismanagement in the basin, combined with an
historic drought, the river is sick—and the Yurok are too. The
salmon they’ve long depended on as both dietary staple and
cultural cornerstone have become scarce.
The removal of four obsolescent hydroelectric dams on the
Klamath River in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, expected in 2023
or 2024, should have been an occasion for celebration,
recognizing an underdog campaign that managed to set in motion
the biggest dam removal project in American history. But that
was before the basin’s troubles turned biblical. … it’s
uncertain whether the remaining salmon will survive long enough
to benefit from the dams’ dismantling.
Nestled below rocky outcroppings dotted with junipers on the
eastern shore of old Tule Lake, John Prosser’s 97-acre
homestead at Bloody Point is a haven amidst the chaos of the
Klamath Basin water crisis. Prosser, a history buff,
purchased the property last fall, its fields having sat largely
fallow for years despite the presence of a private irrigation
well. By August, the field’s newly planted stand of alfalfa was
busy rebounding after its first cutting — a rare sight of green
in the Klamath Project this year.
Though it may seem like the Bootleg Fire’s damage has already
been done after crews contained the blaze last month, the 647
square mile scar spells trouble for the entire Klamath Basin
once the wet season arrives. If actions aren’t taken quickly to
protect streams and drainages in the burn area, water quality
in Upper Klamath Lake — and the endangered c’waam and koptu
that call it home — could suffer.
A Northern California federal judge ruled this month that
Siskiyou County officials cannot stop trucks delivering water
to Hmong unlicensed cannabis growers, writing that the ban
raises “serious questions” about their right to be free of
racial discrimination. In a decision handed down earlier
this month, Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller wrote
that preventing the deliveries to the Mount Shasta Vista
subdivision in the Big Springs area of inland Northern
California also leaves the families living there without a
source of water for drinking, cooking and bathing.
Parts of the Pacific Northwest are under a fire weather watch
through Friday, when a combination of dry conditions, high
temperatures and low humidity are creating a breeding ground
for flames should any small fires ignite. But in just 48 hours’
time, those conditions will pull a meteorological U-turn as a
show of drenching rain arrives in coastal Washington, Oregon
and Northern California.
More than 94 percent of the West is in drought this week,
according to the US Drought Monitor, with six states entirely
in drought status: California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and
Montana. Parts of the West saw record-setting rainfall that
brought some slight relief to the region, but most areas remain
dry. Against the backdrop of climate change-fueled drought,
wildfires have charred nearly 6 million acres of vegetation
across the region. Fire experts say that dry and windy
conditions create a prime environment for wildfires to spark
From the lake to the ocean, the waters of the Klamath are once
again teeming with toxic blue-green algae at the end of a hot,
dry summer. Microcystis aeruginosa, a species of
photosynthetic cyanobacteria that produces the neurotoxin
microcystin, has been detected in nearly all reaches of the
Klamath Basin at or below Upper Klamath Lake. The harmful algal
blooms have plagued the basin and its residents for decades,
fueled by nutrient runoff, stagnant water and summer sunshine.
Many rely on the Klamath River Basin on the California border,
especially with the historic drought in the West. Things got
heated this summer between the area’s tribes and ranchers.
… Over the past week, our colleagues over at The
Indicator have been reporting on the historic drought in the
West. They spent some time with ranchers on the front lines,
including the Klamath River Basin. Sally Herships and Ashley
With climate change-induced drought causing critical low flows
in the Scott and Shasta Rivers and threatening the survival of
multiple fish species, the State Water Resources Control Board
today approved an emergency curtailment regulation that
includes measures to help maintain minimum flows to protect
fish, ensure supplies for human health and livestock needs, and
encourage voluntary efforts that may be used in lieu of
For centuries, spring-run Chinook salmon, among California’s
most iconic fish, would rest for weeks in these historically
cold waters after their brutal upstream journey. Then they
would lay eggs and, finally, perish to complete one of nature’s
most improbable life cycles. No longer. What once was a place
where life began is now one of untimely death. The creek is
simply too warm, an astounding 10 degrees warmer than average
in some parts of these spawning grounds.
The Bureau of Reclamation began releasing water from the
Klamath River to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge on
Sept. 3. Advocates hope it will improve wetland habitat on the
refuge for migrating birds this fall. Last week, California
Waterfowl Association officially purchased approximately 3,750
acre-feet of water from Agency Ranch in the Wood River Valley,
above Upper Klamath Lake, having announced the purchase and
fundraising effort this spring.
For over a century, the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge
has been crucial habitat for birds on their grueling annual
migrations between destinations as distant as Alaska and
Mexico. … For years, the refuge has been last in line for
scarce water, after farmers and endangered fish. As the drought
deepened and wetlands dried out, the lack of water led to
massive outbreaks of avian botulism, killing tens of thousands
of ducks, geese swans and other migratory water birds.
… Last week, that water started flowing into the refuge.
A brutal summer of record heat and punishing drought has
claimed yet another California victim: the majestic,
snow-covered slopes of Mt. Shasta. Just as the impacts of
global warming have revealed themselves in extreme wildfire
behavior and plunging reservoir levels, climate change is now
altering the skyline of far Northern California and wreaking
havoc on communities surrounding the dormant volcano.
A federal judge has blocked a Northern California county’s ban
on trucks delivering water to Hmong cannabis farmers, saying it
raises “serious questions” about racial discrimination and
leaves the growers without a source of water for basic
sanitation, vegetable gardens and livestock. On Friday, Chief
U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller issued a temporary
injunction against Siskiyou County’s prohibition on trucked-in
water deliveries to Hmong farmers growing marijuana in the
Mount Shasta Vista subdivision in the Big Springs area north of
The Bureau of Reclamation began releasing water from the
Klamath River to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge on
Friday afternoon. Advocates hope it will improve wetland
habitat on the refuge for migrating birds this fall. Last
week, California Waterfowl Association officially purchased
approximately 3,750 acre-feet of water from Agency Ranch in the
Wood River Valley, above Upper Klamath Lake, having announced
the purchase and fundraising effort this spring.
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.