Un-Dam The Klamath River
Save California Salmon has been part of the movement to Undam the Klamath River and bring the salmon home to the Upper Klamath Basin. The Klamath Dams block 420 miles of habitat and create terrible water quality problems, such as toxic algae and high temperatures. They also prevent high flows needed to flush out algae that spread the fish disease--namely C. shasta, which kills the majority of juvelle salmon during low water years.
The campaign to take down the Klamath dams represents a historic alliance between four river Tribes, commercial and recreational fishermen, scientists and states and comes only after 13 years of fighting through the FERC process, direct action and community organizing and settlement meetings.The owner of the dams, PacifiCorp, which is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, has agreed to transfer the dams to a dam removal agent that is tasked to remove four of the six Klamath River dams by 2020. A dam removal Environmental Impact Statement and state and federal permit are expected within the next year.
The dam removal is occurring through the FERC process without the authorization from Congress or any water deals. The water deal and legislation that was once associated with this dam removal proposal was called the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). The KBRA was highly controversial and failed to make it out of congress, but water talks around flows on the Klamath River continue.
Klamath River flows and water rights have been one of the most contentious battles in the West in recent history. Under the George W. Bush administration a decision to provide water for Upper Klamath Basin farmers instead of salmon led to the death of over 80,000 adult salmon in the Klamath River in 2002. 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. 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 as a main staple of their diets. Since the Fish Kill a historic decision in the state of Oregon confirmed that the Klamath Tribes of Oregon are the senior water rights holders in the Oregon part of the Klamath River. California Tribes water rights are still not quantified but a recent court decision has led to higher spring flows in the Klamath River to reduce large scale juvenile fish kills.
Many point to the tragic Klamath fish kill as the catalyst that led the Klamath River Tribes to lead the movement that led to dam removal
Un-Dam the Eel River
Two dams owned by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) on the Eel River, the Scott Dam and the Cape Horn, known collectively as the Potter Valley Project, are currently up for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC project number P-77-001). This is a process that only happens every 50 years and this is the second relicensing for these dams, which produce only nine megawatts (about 3 windmills worth) of power. Both public scoping hearings to receive public comments on the dams relicensing have happened out of basin and in non-fishing communities.
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 and 198-288 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.
A change.org petition is at https://www.change.org/p/ferc-pg-e-un-dam-the-eel-river-bring-the-salmon-home
More information about the Eel River is at Eel River.org
Providing Water for Fish
Fish need water to survive. It may seem obvious, but decades of scientific studies have been needed to prove it to state and federal agencies. Fish not only need water to keep from dying but also if there once bountiful runs are to be restored. Often the water provided for endangered fisheries under the Endangered Species Act is barely enough to save them from extinction. Large salmon die off such as the one that happened to the Klamath salmon in 2002 from lack of water, and the most common juvenile salmon die offs are not actually illegal unless certain runs die because Chinook Salmon are not listed as endangered, even though Tribes and commercial fishermen feel the impacts of fish die off for many years after. Our goal should not be to keep fish populations artificially above extinction but to restore the salmon runs so they can provide for everything that depends on them, including humans. What is really needed is a harvestable surplus and living watersheds.
Luckily the State of California has begun several processes to restore flows for fisheries that go beyond the meager goal to stop extinction. These processes are happening though the California State Water Boards and they need to hear from you.
The processes involve several steps beginning with the unimpaired flow scientific study. After the science is completed there is a public input process followed by a decision and final water rights processes and voluntary water agreements. What flows are needed for different fisheries’ life cycles during different times of the year are analyzed as part of the scientific process. In dammed rivers higher flows and high water events are often needed to mimic natural river flow during winter and springtime. These higher flows help fish migrate to the ocean, inundate important rearing habitat, transport spawning gravels and flush out algae and sediments.
Predictably, many powerful water users are opposed to these processes and restoring portions of natural flows. The first watersheds to undergo these processes are the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. On the North Coast, the Shasta River, a major tributary to the Klamath, and the South Fork Eel River unimpaired flow studies will begin soon.
Groundwater Management and Rivers
Flows can also be restored through the protection of groundwater in areas where surface water and groundwater are interconnected. In many watersheds groundwater and surface water mix as it often goes above and below ground. These watersheds are called interconnected groundwater basins. These areas, when allowed to, provide much needed cold clean water to watersheds like the Klamath River’s Scott and Shasta Rivers.
Many of these rivers provide valuable habitat and refugia for salmon and are are the key areas for fish production in their watersheds. They also provide sanctuary from diseases and lethal temperature conditions. However, unregulated wells along with dams, diversions and agricultural pollution has left some of the groundwater dependent rivers in California uninhabitable for fish during certain times of year. Wells are often drilled close to river banks. As the water table under the river and creeks drop, the river flows drop. It’s like putting too many straws in a glass of water.
Until recently, California did not regulate groundwater at all despite the impact of wells and pollution. Ground water regulation will be phased in, due to a new law. Many of the details of the new law are being turned over to counties. This means counties run by ranching and agricultural interests, or developers, are coming up with plans that do not protect groundwater or salmon in the areas where groundwater is most connected to surface water flows.
We need your help to make sure there are strong voices for flow and fisheries restoration in these flow related processes.
Action Alerts will be posted here as comment periods open.