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.
A decades-long effort to remove four dams on the lower Klamath
River in California and Oregon would be the largest dam removal
in the world. The dam removals would reopen access to more than
400 miles of habitat for threatened coho salmon, Chinook
salmon, steelhead trout, and other threatened native fish. NOAA
is one of many partners collaborating to build a network of
restored habitat that can support these species once the dams
are removed. NOAA, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries
Commission, and Trout Unlimited have released a detailed plan
for restoring habitat in a key portion of the watershed.
The largest dam-removal and river-restoration project in
history was approved last month for the Klamath River along the
California-Oregon border. U.S. regulators approved the plan to
demolish four of the six hydroelectric dams on the river by
2024 in order to open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat
and sacred lands. Environmentalists and local tribes who rely
on the Klamath and its salmon have been working for years to
have the dams removed — and a group of native youths are
training with Aspen-based nonprofit Ríos to Rivers to be the
first to kayak down the free-flowing river.
In drought-prone northern California, limited water resources,
private water rights allocations, and inefficient transport and
use of water resources causes tension between freshwater
conservation and private landownership (Garibaldi et al. 2020,
Vissers 2017). In the face of a changing climate, drought
curtailments will likely become more frequent, ratchetting
stress on all water users (Vissers 2017). From an engineering
perspective, efficiently managing water rights as arid
landscapes become drier and less predictable will be essential
to preservation of working landscapes and the environment.
Water purchases and leases are a common tool for securing water
rights for environmental purposes. California recently
considered a budget proposal to allocate $1.5 billion to
buy-back private agricultural water rights to mitigate drought
and support ecological uses (Bork et al. 2022).
As California confronts another extended drought and its
impacts, it is more obvious than ever that the state has failed
to address its water supply and management challenges for far
too long. The immediate fallout of the unprecedented
situation we find ourselves in is frightening: local residents
with wells running dry; urban water rationing and critical
shortages; massive fallowing of some of the nation’s most
productive agricultural land and the resulting impacts on food
prices; and significant uncertainty about our ability to adapt
to the future. The long-term effects are even more
dire. The viability of California’s $3.4 trillion economy
is at stake. -Written by Tom Coleman, General Manager at Rowland
Water District; and Federico Barajas, Executive Director
of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, has
unanimously approved its staff recommendation to surrender
the license for the four lower PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath
River in California and Oregon – and begin the dam removal
process. These dam removals on the Klamath will open up over
240 stream-miles of salmon and steelhead habitat that has been
blocked to fish migration for over 100 years. The project, the
largest of its kind in U.S. history, is funded by dam owner
PacifiCorp and a voter-approved California bond measure.
Klamath Basin indigenous tribes, along with commercial and
recreational fishermen and environmental groups, had
worked on making dam removal a reality for two decades.
The vote was unanimous and completely expected: the Klamath
River dams are coming out. Not all of them, but the three in
California and one just over the border in Oregon are
officially doomed after a vote from the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission, which licenses the dams. Now the work of
the Klamath River Renewal Corporation ramps up to full speed,
with destruction work potentially getting started in the next
calendar year. KRRC is a transitional agency with one job: get
rid of the dams. Mark Bransom, Executive Director, drops in to
give an overview of next steps and how the dam-removal timeline
U.S. regulators approved a plan Nov. 17 to demolish four dams
on a California river and open up hundreds of miles of salmon
habitat that would be the largest dam removal and river
restoration project in the world, reports the Associated Press
(AP). The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s unanimous vote
on the lower Klamath River dams is the last major regulatory
hurdle and the biggest milestone for a $500 million demolition
proposal championed by Native American tribes and
environmentalists for years. The project would return the lower
half of California’s second-largest river to a free-flowing
state for the first time in more than a century.
Jeff Schlecht has spent his lifetime fishing. Now he figures
it’s time to help others have those same opportunities.
… Earlier this year, Schlecht and two others went to
work to remove small dams along Spencer Creek, a tributary of
the Klamath River. Located near Chase Mountain in Klamath
County, Spencer Creek is known for its quality trout
fishing. Removal of the small dams was part of what
Schlecht sees as a larger effort to “give back” by recreating a
Klamath Falls chapter of Trout Unlimited, a national non-profit
group with a slogan of “Fishing. Conservation. Community.”
… hundreds of miles of salmon spawning habitat are blocked by
four dams on the lower Klamath River. But an historic decision
made on Thursday in Washington, D.C. holds the promise to
change that. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s
approval of removing those four dams should set free a huge
stretch of one of the West’s most important coastal rivers for
salmon and reopen 400 miles of habitat — much of which salmon
have been unable to reach for more than a century…. Next
year, deconstruction work will begin at JC Boyle, Copco 1,
Copco 2 and Iron Gate dams, with the biggest dams scheduled to
be removed in 2024. Getting to this point has taken decades of
negotiation and planning, and removing the four dams will be a
massive, $500 million undertaking that many in the surrounding
communities still oppose.
What is the cost of defying California’s environmental laws?
Less than $50. That’s all Northern California farmers will pay
for blatantly draining the Shasta River in defiance of the
state’s drought regulations last summer, likely killing
protected salmon. The Shasta River Water Association is an
irrigation district serving about 100 farmers and ranchers in
Siskiyou County. Over eight days, its members drained nearly
two-thirds of the river to fill livestock ponds in the
area. This was the primary finding of a Bee investigation
that suggests California is unable to stop farmers from
draining water as they wish — no matter how much damage is done
to the environment.
The biggest dam-removal project in history moved one step
closer to reality Thursday after the federal government cleared
a key regulatory hurdle that would allow demolition to begin on
four hydroelectric dams along California’s border with Oregon.
The decision Thursday by the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission allows PacifiCorp, a utility company controlled by
financier Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, to surrender the
dams’ license to a nonprofit organization backed by California
and Oregon. Demolition on the Klamath River dams — three in
California and one in Oregon — could begin as quickly as a few
months from now.
This developing story has been
updated: US regulators approved a major milestone
Thursday in a plan to demolish four dams on a California river
and open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat that would be
the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the
world when it goes forward. The Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission vote on the lower Klamath River dams is the last
major regulatory hurdle and the biggest milestone for a $500
million demolition proposal championed by Native American
tribes and environmentalists for years. The project would
return the lower half of California’s second-largest river to a
free-flowing state for the first time in more than a century.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-02) isn’t the only one from the North
Coast making the rounds at the United Nations Climate Change
Conference. On Tuesday, Danielle Frank, of Ríos to Rivers and a
youth leader of the Hupa Valley Tribe, and Brook Thompson, who
is a member of the Yurok Tribe and Karuk Tribe, shared the
story of the dams in the Klamath River basin at a panel titled
Centering the Protection of Rivers and Rights in Achieving
Climate Justice in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. They were speaking
alongside Indigenous people from other parts of the world who
have also been fighting to protect rivers in their communities.
… Six dams in the Klamath River basin have severely
impacted water quality, temperatures and flows, which in turn
have led to the degradation of the ecosystem. In 2002, the
river experienced one of the largest fish kills in its history,
leading to a 20-year legal fight to bring the dams down.
As a society, what do we do when too little water has been
promised to too many people? What should we be doing
differently? In the United States, there is perhaps no
better to place to turn for answers to these questions than the
Klamath Basin. The Klamath Basin watershed is considered one of
the most complicated areas for water governance in the United
States owing to its transboundary location (the basin crosses
the Oregon-California border), its history of complex
litigation and persistent inter-institutional (and
interpersonal) conflict, and more than 60 different groups of
people who have an interest in the basin’s water
California’s water officials plan to impose a $4,000 fine on
Siskiyou County ranchers for violating orders to cut back their
water use during a weeklong standoff last summer. State
officials and the ranchers agree: A $4,000 fine isn’t much of a
deterrent to prevent illegal water diversions during
California’s droughts. The proposed fine would amount to about
$50 per rancher. A rural water association serving about
80 ranchers and farmers — facing mounting costs from hauling
water and purchasing hay to replace dried out pasture — turned
on their pumps for eight days in August to divert water from
the Shasta River. State and federal officials said the pumping,
which violated an emergency state order, threatened the river’s
water quality and its salmon and other rare species.
A California tribe has renewed its lawsuit accusing the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation of violating its sovereignty and fishing
rights in California’s Trinity River after settlement talks
with the Biden Administration collapsed.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe alleged in a lawsuit Monday that the
federal government is violating its sovereignty and failing to
collect money from California farms that rely on federally
supplied water to pay for damages to tribal fisheries. The
tribe, which has a reservation in northwest California, says in
its lawsuit against the Biden administration that the Trinity
River that it relies on for food and cultural purposes has been
decimated by decades of the federal government diverting water.
The suit alleges the U.S. Department of the Interior has failed
to follow laws that require the contractors who use that water
to pay money for habitat restoration projects. It says those
contractors owe $340 million for environmental restoration work
along the Trinity River and other places damaged by water
An Oregon ranch is seeking $1.5 million from the state
government, claiming water regulators have effectively seized
its irrigation water supply without paying just compensation.
The Sprague River Cattle Co. in Klamath County has filed a
lawsuit arguing that its water rights would normally be worth
$1.5 million but the “value has been entirely destroyed” by
flow restrictions that render them “no longer marketable.”
According to the complaint against the State of Oregon, the
ranch property was originally part of the Klamath Indian
Reservation, which was established in 1864, setting the
priority date for the water rights.
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.