LEARN ABOUT OUR RIVERS
Save California Salmon's focus is mainly on Northern California Rivers, but we recognize that the water cycle and water laws are all interconnected. Below is information on some of our focus rivers which include:
The Scott River
The Shasta River
The Smith River
The Eel River
The Klamath River
The Trinity River
The Salmon River
The Sacramento River
THE SCOTT & SHASTA RIVER
The Scott and Shasta River, and many creeks in the mid Klamath provide valuable habitat to Coho, Spring and Fall Chinook salmon, along with several runs of steelhead, lamprey (eels) and Sturgeon. The Scott and Shasta River are largely dewatered in summer and fall months for alfalfa farming and cattle grazing and the Shasta River is largely blocked by several dams, the biggest of which is the Dwinnell dam. There are efforts to take down small dams in the Shasta River and to restore flows to the Shasta and Scott Rivers. These rivers have the best habitat in the Klamath basin for Coho Salmon. This area of the Klamath River is largely Karuk country and the Karuk Tribe is at the forefront of river and forest restoration efforts in this area.
THE SMITH RIVER
The Smith River in Northern California is the state’s wildest river, and it’s the only completely undammed watershed in the state. Salmon should be thriving in the Smith, however unregulated Easter lily farming is poisoning the Smith River estuary and harming protected salmon species. The pesticides are also causing health issues in the Smith River community, which has the highest rates of mortality due to heart disease, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory disease in the state. Smith River Easter lily bulbs are sold throughout the country as part of Easter celebrations. We ask that the public boycott non-organic Easter lilies until their chemical pollution is regulated.
THE EEL RIVER
The Eel River is the third largest salmon-bearing river in California and once hosted up to 800,000 salmon a year, which supported the commercial fishing industry and Tribal subsistence fishing for the Wiyot, Round Valley, Bear River, Sherwood Valley, and other Tribes. Now fish numbers are about 1% of historical levels and subsistence, commercial and sport fishing opportunities have been strictly curtailed.
The Scott Dam blocks fish passage to between 55-89 miles of habitat for Chinook Salmon and198-288 miles of habitat for steelhead. This dam is very old, has no spillway and presents a safety risk for downstream users. It also creates toxic algae, warms water, and creates many other water quality impacts. The Cape Horn Dam diverts large amounts of water to the Russian River and is is also part of this project.
The dams on the Eel River are not the only issue impacting salmon in this rural watershed, however their removal would be a major step in restoring the Eel River fishery, and making sure Eel River salmon and trout survive the impacts of climate change.
THE KLAMATH RIVER
The Klamath River may have the best opportunity for watershed-wide restoration of any major watershed in the lower 48 states. The Klamath watershed has no major cities and is set to have four major dams removed. It is also host to California’s largest tribes; the Yurok Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe and Karuk Tribe, which are salmon dependent and active in river restoration and dam removal. The Klamath Tribes of Oregon, which have been without salmon for almost a century, are also advocating for dam removal, tribal water rights, and restoration.
The Klamath is often called an “upside down” river because it starts with several large wetlands that take in its tributaries, the Sycan, Williamson, and Wood Rivers. Water quality improves as it moves through wild mountains downstream. The Lost River is transferred into the Klamath at the Tule Lake Refuge through a manmade drain created to benefit commercial agriculture.
The Klamath wetlands are home to a large network of National Wildlife Refuges, including the nation’s oldest refugees. These refuges host the greatest number of migrating birds on the Pacific flyway south of Alaska. Unfortunately, like much of the area surrounding Upper Klamath Lake, much of these refugees are drained, diked and farmed. The runoff from this refuge farming is released into the Klamath River and causes massive water quality issues.
The Klamath’s major tributaries below Upper Klamath Lake include the Shasta, Scott, Salmon and Trinity Rivers. The Scott and Shasta rivers, which host some of the best available salmon habitat below the Klamath dams, are heavily diverted and used for alfalfa production in the Scott Valley.
The battle for Klamath River flows and water rights has been one of the most contentious water battles in the West. In 2002, a George W. Bush administration decision to provide water for Upper Klamath Basin farmers instead of salmon led to the death of over 65,000 adult salmon in the Klamath River. This fish kill led to some of the worst salmon returns in history in the years following which caused commercial fishing shutdowns in Oregon and California. Large scale subsequent juvenile fish kills led to more fishing shutdowns and catastrophic damage to the Klamath River fishery.
The lack of salmon after the fish kill also led to low salmon catches for California’s largest tribes, the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes, which depend on salmon for subsistence and cultural survival. Since the 2002 fish kill a historic decision in the state of Oregon confirmed that the Klamath Tribes of Oregon are the senior water right holders in the Oregon part of the Klamath River. California Tribes’ water rights are not yet quantified, but a recent court decision has led to higher spring flows in the Klamath River from the Klamath Project to reduce large scale juvenile fish kills.
THE TRINITY RIVER
The Trinity River is the largest Tributary to the Klamath River, and the last major river to enter the Klamath River. It is also the only out of basin tributary that is diverted into the Sacramento River.
THE SALMON RIVER
The Salmon River is the last stronghold besides the South Fork Trinity River for the imperiled Spring Chinook salmon. The Spring Chinook used to thrive in the millions in the Upper Klamath Basin above the Klamath River dams but now number in the hundreds. Unlike other rivers, the Klamath River’s Spring Chinook salmon are not regulated as a separate species and therefore can be fished or killed even when fishing is shut down or curtailed for fall run Chinook salmon, which are not endangered. The Karuk Tribe is currently petitioning for listing of the Spring Chinook salmon as not only a separate species, but also a engaged species. 2017 was the worst Fall Chinook salmon run returns in history. This is largely due to fish diseases that kill juvenile salmon in low water years. Dam removal and higher spring flows could largely prevent these fish disease.
THE SACRAMENTO RIVER
The Sacramento River is the second largest river on the West Coast and the major source of water for the Sacramento Bay Delta and San Francisco Bay, which make up the nation’s largest estuary. The Bay Delta and Sacramento River are a drinking water source for over 25 million people and the home of endemic species such as the Delta smelt and winter run salmon, which are currently facing extinction. The Sacramento River has been the most reliable source of salmon for California's commercial and recreational fishing industries until recently. Increased water diversions, drought and increased pollution from commercial farming has greatly reduced salmon populations in recent years. About 80% of the commercial salmon fishing fleet has been lost over the last twenty years.
Lack of habitat due to large dams and diversions on the Sacramento and tributaries have blocked the majority of habitat for ESA listed winter and spring run salmon in the Sacramento River. Tribes like the Pit River and Winnemem Wintu have not been able to catch salmon since the Shasta Dam was completed. The Winnemem Wintu Tribe lost much of their land and sacred sites to inundation when the reservoir was built. Now tribes are leading reintroduction and fish passage efforts at the Shasta Dam, and fighting the raising of the Shasta Dam, along with new dams such as the Sites Reservoirs.
The Sacramento River’s main tributaries include the Pit River, the McCloud River, the Feather River, the Yuba River, and the American River. All of these rivers have large dams that block fish migration. Major state efforts to restore flows and protect habitat in the upper of the Sacramento River are being planned, but plans for new dams, pipelines and diversions threaten fish recovery on the Sacramento, as does a new effort from the Trump administration to maximize water deliveries from the state and federal water projects.