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.
On March 10, officials in California made the difficult yet
pragmatic decision to cancel … ocean salmon commercial or
sport fishing off California’s coast until April 2024. In the
Sacramento and Klamath rivers, Chinook salmon numbers have
approached record lows due to recent drought conditions.
… Right now, we believe that the commercial salmon
fishing ban is what our salmon need to ensure population
numbers do not dip to unrecoverable lows. As we look to future
population resiliency, there are so many other things these
fish need, and our teams are working hard to make them
happen. CalTrout works from ridge top to river mouth to
get salmon populations unassisted access to each link in the
chain of habitats that each of their life stages depends on.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council on March 10 provided
three options for recreation and commercial salmon fishing from
the California/Oregon border all the way south to the
California/Mexico border. Unfortunately, but not surprising,
all three options included the words “closed.” In an
unprecedented decision, the PFMC was left with little choice
but to close recreational and commercial salmon fishing this
season statewide. Southern Oregon, which also impacts
Sacramento and Klamath River fall Chinook, will also be closed
from Cape Falcon south. The sport fishery had been scheduled to
open off California in most areas on April 1. The closures were
made to protect Sacramento River fall Chinook, which returned
to the Central Valley in 2022 at near-record low numbers,
and Klamath River fall Chinook, which had the second lowest
abundance forecast since the current assessment method began in
On the north shore of Iron Gate reservoir, Frank Henry, Jr.
jams a heavy metal pole into the ground and twists. Once a hole
is excavated, he grabs a stick from a five-gallon bucket. Water
drips from the small tangle of roots at one end. The stick is
Klamath plum; it will eventually grow into a shrubby tree that
forms dense thickets and produces mauve-colored fruits.
… Henry is part of a crew contracted by Resource
Environmental Solutions, or RES, to restore the banks of the
Klamath River in the wake of dam removal. Late last year,
PacifiCorp transferred ownership of four hydroelectric
dams—three in Northern California; one in Southern Oregon—to
the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which is managing the
dam removal. Drawdown of the reservoirs is scheduled to begin
as early as next January.
In response to crashing Chinook populations, a council of West
Coast fishery managers plans to cancel this year’s salmon
season in California, which will put hundreds of commercial
fishermen and women out of work in Northern California and turn
the summer into a bummer for thousands of recreational anglers.
…The Pacific Fishery Management Council announced March 10
that it is choosing between three fishing season
alternatives. Each would close the 2023 season, with the
possibility of a reopening in 2024. The final decision will
come during a session that begins April 1.
Federal officials have proposed closing commercial chinook
salmon fishing off the coast of California over concerns for
expected low numbers of fall-run chinook salmon returning to
the Sacramento River this year. The Pacific Fishery Management
Council announced its three alternatives for recreational and
commercial fishing Friday. Ocean recreational fishing from the
Oregon-California border to the U.S.-Mexico border will be
closed in all three proposals, “given the low abundance
forecasts for both Klamath and Sacramento River fall chinook.”
the council said in a news release issued Friday. Commercial
salmon fishing off the coast of California also will be closed,
the council said. Ocean fishing restrictions were also
announced for Oregon and Washington.
Construction to start the removal process of the Klamath River
dams will start this month and all four dams are scheduled to
be removed from the river by the end of 2024. The Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission approved the $450 million dam
removal project in November of 2022. It will be the largest dam
removal project in American history. The Klamath River
Renewal Corporation (KRRC), who took over ownership of the dams
from Pacific Power, is leading the historic construction
project. This month, construction preparation work is underway.
Construction on the dams will begin this summer, starting with
A few weeks ago, federally threatened coho salmon swam up the
Klamath River, spawned and laid egg nests. But some of these
nests, or redds, holding as many as 4,000 eggs, may never
hatch, owing to reduced water levels in the river. It’s the
result of a severe water management bungling, say critics, by
the Bureau of Reclamation, which controls how much water flows
from Upper Klamath Lake into the river. … Tribal nations and
commercial fishing groups argue the agency violated the
Endangered Species Act when it reduced river flows in mid-March
below a minimum level set in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration biological opinion, a series of recommendations
and requirements meant to help the salmon recover and ensure
river management decisions don’t push the species to the brink
of extinction…. The Bureau of Reclamation, which controls
flows and water allocation on the Klamath, says it is caught
between competing priorities.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has awarded
$22.5 million to 19 projects that reportedly restore habitat
for salmon and wildlife corridors. According to the CDFW, eight
of the 19 projects address drought impacts on salmon and seek
to repair unscreened water diversions. The largest salmon
project will be led by the Yurok Tribe, which was awarded $3.9
million. Tribal officials will work within the Oregon Gulch
area of the Upper Trinity River to reestablish the river’s
natural flow after it was damaged by hydraulic mining. The
tribe will also reportedly work on restoring overflow banks for
The $15 million in funding will come from the federal
government’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was passed by
Congress in late 2021. “Anything that improves the ecological
infrastructure of the Basin we’re interested in learning
about,” said Matt Baun, the Klamath coordinator with the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service. A total of $162 million was
earmarked for the Klamath Basin over five years from the
infrastructure law. This is the second year of funding.
Organizations that are eligible include nonprofits, academic
institutions, tribes and even community groups. Projects could
range from fisheries restoration and water quality work to
agricultural projects and efforts to improve waterfowl habitat.
The world’s largest dam removal in history is slated for 2023.
Led by Indigenous tribes in partnership with organizations,
lawyers, scientists and activists, the project will remove four
dams, clearing the way for the lower Klamath River to flow
freely for the first time in more than a century. The
Institute of the Environment’s monthly seminar series recently
brought together a panel of experts intimately tied to the
project to discuss the history and outlook for these changes.
Participants on the Feb. 8 panel were Brittani Orona, assistant
professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State
University; Robert Lusardi of the UC Davis Center for Watershed
Sciences; Tommy Williams from NOAA Fisheries; Toz Soto, Karuk
Tribe fisheries manager; Scott Williams, an attorney from
The western United States—Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana,
Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, California, Oregon, and
Washington—produced 61% of the country’s hydroelectricity last
water year (2021–22). Increases in hydropower generation
in the region’s three largest hydropower-producing
states—Washington, Oregon, and California—drove last year’s
rise in western hydroelectric generation. Combined, these
states made up 82% of western hydropower generation in the
2021–22 water year. Data from the Northwest River
Forecast Center and the California Department of
Water Resources show that increased precipitation in the
2021–22 water year fueled the increased hydropower generation
in these states.
Not issuing the drought permits could have a significant impact
on agriculture in the region if farmers don’t have access to
irrigation water. …The department usually issues 40 to 50
drought permits per year. A spokesperson for the Klamath Water
Users Association, which lobbies for the basin’s agriculture
community, did not respond to an interview request. Groundwater
levels in the Klamath Basin have declined significantly in
recent years. OWRD said the water level dropped by 20 to 30
feet over the last three years alone, so additional access is
unsustainable. Emergency drought declarations have been made in
Klamath County in 16 of the past 31 years.
As salmon runs on the Sacramento and Klamath River systems
continue to plummet, the California Department of Fish and
Wildlife will hold its annual Salmon Information Meeting via
webinar next week. The session is schedule 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
next Wednesday, March 1. This meeting is one of the most
important meetings of the year for anglers to attend. It will
feature the outlook for this year’s sport and commercial ocean
salmon fisheries, in addition to a review of last year’s salmon
fisheries and spawning escapement, according to the CDFW.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation … announced last week that it
will cut flows on the [Klamath] river to historic lows, drying
out the river and likely killing salmon farther downstream.
… The basin has more than 200,000 acres of irrigated
farmland, between 10,000 and 14,000 of which are dedicated to
potatoes, an Indigenous food originally engineered from a
toxic wild root by Andean horticulturists. Roughly three
quarters of the basin’s potato yield go to companies like Frito
Lay for potato chips, and In-N-Out Burger for fries, according
to the Klamath Water Users Association.
Despite a wet winter in Southern Oregon and Northern
California, the Klamath Basin remains in an extensive,
multi-year drought. To conserve water, The Bureau of
Reclamation announced flows from Iron Gate Dam into the Klamath
River will be reduced by approximately 11%, effective
immediately. “Despite storm events experienced across Oregon
and California in late December and early January, the
hydrology of the Klamath Basin continues to be hampered by the
effects of a multi-year drought,” said the Bureau in a
statement. The flows will then be managed through April 1,
while seeking technical input received through weekly Tribal
Nation and stakeholder meetings.
Late last year, the final regulatory approvals to remove four
large dams on the Klamath River became the good news
environmental story of the year. The fact that Tribes from
remote communities along the California-Oregon border started a
successful movement to remove four large dams suggests that
America can indeed restore rivers, ensure wild salmon runs for
future generations, and honor traditional cultures.
Unfortunately, officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and the
Fish and Wildlife Service are turning this epic [victory] into
a tragedy. Today, Department of Interior officials told tribes
that flows to the river from the Klamath Irrigation Project
would be reduced below the minimums described by the Biological
Opinion that is supposed to govern Klamath Irrigation Project
Next year will be the big year. By the end of 2024 the Lower
Klamath River will run free for the first time in a century,
enabling fish like salmon and steelhead to reclaim 400 miles of
river habitat in California and Oregon. The removal of four
dams on the river — the largest dam-removal and
river-restoration project to date — got the official go-ahead
late last year after two decades of work from the region’s
Tribes and other advocates. But before next year’s
much-anticipated demolitions begin, a lot remains to be done.
The smallest of the four dams, Copco 2, will come down in 2023,
and crews will improve roads and bridges, move a municipal
water line, and build a new fish hatchery.
The Klamath National Forest says today the snowpack across the
Forest is more than the normal average for its February 1 snow
survey results. The Klamath National Forest (KNF) says today it
has completed its February 1 snow surveys as part of
California’s Cooperative Snow Survey program, which helps the
State forecast the quantity of water available for agriculture,
power generation, recreation, and stream flow releases later in
the year. … KNF says measurements for the February 1
survey show the Forest’s snowpack is at 125% of the historic
average snow height (snow depth) and at 129% of the historic
average Snow Water Equivalent (SWE, a measure of water content)
across all survey points (see result table). Historically,
snowpack reaches its annual maximum by late-March/early-April.
A decades-long tussle over water continues at the
California-Oregon border, as irrigators of the federal Klamath
Water Project say they find themselves hamstrung again by
environmental regulations and operating procedures prioritizing
protected fish over the needs of agriculture—the economic
engine for local communities. … Tulelake farmer Ben
DuVal, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, said
he is frustrated by “a complete breakdown in management” at the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which “built this project, and they
essentially are not taking care of it.” After three years
of drought and little to no water allocated to the project
during that time, Reclamation, which manages the Klamath
Project, put in place temporary operating procedures in
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.