Another Year of Drought, Another Klamath Salmon Disaster

April, 2015






Another Year of Drought, Another Klamath Salmon Disaster

Barring another “Miracle March”, California looks to be entering a third straight year of drought. In Northwest California’s Klamath Mountains the water content of the  snowpack in late February was 17 percent of average;  in the Upper Klamath Basin the snowpack was 10 percent of average.   

Another year of drought is bad news for Klamath Salmon. While a federal legal opinion should make 50,000 acre feet of Trinity River water available to prevent a repeat of 2002’s adult salmon die off in the Lower Klamath, no relief will be provided to mitigate an ongoing disease epidemic which infected up to 100 percent of the juvenile salmon migrating down the Klamath River last year.

That’s because the 2013 Biological Opinion for Coho salmon, Lost River sucker and Shortnose sucker prioritizes filling Upper Klamath Lake over the high spring flows scientists believe are needed to lower fish disease rates below Iron Gate Dam. Justified as benefiting endangered suckers, filling Upper Klamath Lake before providing increased spring flows allows the Bureau of Reclamation to maximize water delivery to irrigators in the 210,000 acre Klamath Irrigation Project.

The Klamath has the same fish diseases present in other salmon rivers and a few unique to the Klamath. In other salmon rivers, however, only a small percentage of salmon become diseased. Scientists believe the unprecedented high incidence of fish diseases in the Klamath River is related to low springtime river flows and high water temperature.

Unreported in the mainstream press, juvenile fish kills occur annually in the Klamath below Iron Gate Dam. Radio tagging indicates that only 8 percent of juvenile salmon migrating down the Klamath survive to reach the ocean. Biologists conclude that most adult salmon returning to the Klamath in some years began life in the Trinity River which has much lower disease rates.

Meanwhile, the Yurok and Klamath Tribes, which hold water rights that could provide the Klamath flows scientists say are needed, continue to forgo asserting those rights in hopes the federal government will provide them with “economic development” funding and other benefits negotiated as part of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) water deal. Both tribes recently initiated KBRA “dispute resolution” meetings in hopes of securing KBRA “bargained for benefits”. It is unknown if the tribes are also demanding higher springtime river flows.

In the long run, lowering water temperatures and providing naturally high spring flows are likely keys to restoring fish health in the Klamath River. Removing four PacifiCorp dams would help. But lowering the Klamath’s water temperature also requires that farmers and ranchers in the Scott, Shasta and Tule Lake watersheds allow natural vegetation to shade streams and irrigation ditches running through their properties. Restoring natural shade to Klamath River Basin streams is required by the Clean Water Act. But the agency charged with assuring that landowners allow natural shade on streams—the North Coast Water Board—has been unwilling to use regulatory authority to insist that landowners allow natural shading of waterways.

EcoNews readers can encourage the agencies responsible for Klamath water temperatures and flows to do more for Klamath Salmon. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board should insist that farmers, ranchers and other landowners allow shade on streams running through their properties. The National Marine Fisheries Service should insist that the springtime river flows needed to reduce fish disease rates are provided. Below is contact information for the agencies:

John W. Corbett, Chair, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board,

Irma Lagomarcino, Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service,



The North Group offers the following hikes in September. All our hikes are open to the public. Contact hike leaders for more information:

Sunday, April 12: South Fork Trinity River Hike. Much to see on this perennial favorite National Forest trail. Redbud, Baby Blue Eyes, Black-headed Grosbeak. Trekking poles will be a plus. A profusion of wildflowers is expected. No dogs. Dress for the weather. Hikers must have water, lunch, sun/cold protection, good footwear, and agility to cross small streams. 6.5 miles, 1,200 ft. elevation change, moderate difficulty. Carpools: Meet 8:30 a.m. at Ray’s shopping center in Valley West. Leader Ned,, 825-3652. Heavy rain cancels.

Saturday, April 25: Smith River NRA-Jedediah Smith State Park. Little Bald Hills Trail. From the trailhead off South Fork Road, a succession of botanic communities and stunning views reward our 1,800 ft. climb. The afternoon’s descent enters old growth redwood forest as the trail nears Howland Hill Road and our shuttled cars. Bring food, water, hiking boots. No dogs. 10 miles, moderately difficult. Meet 9:30 a.m. Hiouchi Ranger Station (Hwy 199, just past and across from Jed. Smith Campground) By reservation only. Leader Melinda 707-668-4275.

Sunday, May 10: Trinity Alps Wilderness Canyon Creek Day Hike. Out and back past lively creek, granite cliffs, and spring blooms to meadows above Lower Falls. Bring plentiful food, water, sun protection, hiking boots. 9 miles, 1400 ft el. change, moderate. Carpools 7:30 a.m. Blue Lake, First & G St.; 10 a.m. Canyon Creek Trailhead Parking (13.5 mi. N Junction City on County Rd.401) Leader: Melinda 707-668-4275.

Annual Planning Retreat

The North Group held its Annual Planning Retreat on February 8. Adopted goals for 2015 include:

• Hold at least two general membership meetings with food provided, and a speaker or presentation on topics including climate change and public lands grazing, with information sharing and member recruiting;

• Continue to advocate for dam removal, sound science, restoration and a unified Sierra Club position on Klamath River issues;

• Advocate for restoration of the Eel River including adequate flows and healthy salmon stocks;

• Work with other groups to develop a resilient habitats and a national forest regional fire plan for the Klamath Mountains Bioregion, and use that regional fire plan to guide work on individual national forest plans and local climate change adaptation plans in our region.


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