The Klamath River
The Klamath River is California’s second largest watershed and runs from springs and wetlands in Southeast Oregon to the the Yurok Reservation in California’s majestic redwood. It’s headwaters is Upper Klamath Lake which is fed by the Wood, Sprague and Williamson Rivers. This area is home to the Klamath Tribes, along with some of the nation’s oldest wildlife refuges.
These refuges and the Klamath Tribes’ historic lands have loss the majority of these historic wetlands and lakes, which have been drained for industrial farming. The farming pollution and draining of wetlands has lead to wide-scale water quality and habitat problems and has push endemic fish species, such as the Short nose and Lost River suckers or c'waam, close to extinction.
Below the Upper Klamath Lake a series of hydroelectric dams owner by PacifiCorp, block all fish passage and impact water quality. Four of these dams are scheduled for removal.
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 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 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. More about the Trinity and Sacramento Rivers are in the sections below.
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.