First Flush Klamath Monitoring

December, 2016


First Flush citizen stream monitoring has become popular across the US. It takes place after major storms, including the first sustained wet season storms. In California that typically occurs in October.  

First Flush flows contain pollution that was stored in stream sediments, on streambanks and in riparian areas during the dry season. In the Klamath and North Coast ranges, sediment, nutrients and fecal bacteria are the types of pollution typically delivered to streams during First Flush storms. These forms of pollution are associated with logging and agriculture—particularly from badly designed and poorly maintained roads—and when livestock are allowed to graze in and along streams for long periods.

In the Klamath River Basin a few organizations conduct targeted First Flush investigations. For example, EPIC and Klamath Forest Alliance activists monitor streams within the footprint of large wildfires and backfires which have subsequently been subjected to salvage logging.

First Flush 2016: 

In mid-October I conducted a First Flush investigation in the lower and middle Klamath River Basin. Most watersheds are dominated by public or industrial forestlands; some have national forest grazing at their headwaters. 

Watersheds had received between 4 and 10 inches of rain over the prior seven days. Stream turbidity was visually estimated and photo documented. I also monitored sites in the Scott River Valley that in the past have been used as cattle feedlots. When feedlots are placed along streams, sedimentation, fecal bacteria pollution and riparian shade removal result. 

While most streams carried moderate amounts of sediment, I did not find muddy streams or muddy logging trucks on the roads. That’s the result of stronger requirements for private logging roads and twenty-two years of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS) on federal land. Adopted in 1994, the ACS mandates removal of forest roads which most threaten stream ecosystems. It calls for reconstruction of all roads to render them less prone to landslides and washouts which deliver salmon-killing sediment to streams. 

While the road removal mandate has not been fully implemented, a large effort has been made to “stormproof” forest roads on private and public land. As a result, while poorly maintained logging roads still deliver too much sediment to streams, they now deliver much less sediment compared to the 1990s.

Three streams carried large amounts of foam indicating either decaying vegetation or manure waste in the water: North Russian Creek in the Salmon River Watershed, Kelsey Creek in the Scott River Watershed and Scott River below the agricultural Scott Valley. North Russian Creek drains the Etna Creek Grazing Allotment in the Russian Peak Wilderness; Kelsey Creek drains the Big Ridge Grazing Allotment in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. 

Forest Service officials do not require modern grazing management. Each year unherded cattle trample streambanks and wetlands, remove riparian shade and deposit large amounts of manure into and next to streams for up to six months. Foam in North Russian and Kelsey Creeks is the result of bad grazing management and could be eliminated if Forest Service managers required responsible grazing management. 

Scott River Pollution: 

Because standards for water temperature, sediment and nutrients are regularly not met, the North Coast Water Board developed a plan to restore Scott River water quality. The Plan calls for landowners to protect streambanks from trampling, keep manure out of the streams and allow natural riparian vegetation to shade streams. When landowners refuse to keep pollution out of a stream, the Water Board is supposed to step in to enforce the Clean Water Act. 

Unfortunately, Water Board staff appear reluctant to enforce stream protection requirements. The photo on this page shows one of the Scott Valley sites where Water Board officials fail to require the stream protection needed to restore Public Trust resources, including salmon fisheries.

First Flush Advocacy: 

First Flush monitoring is a tool activists use to encourage responsible officials to end stream pollution. For example, photos including the one above were sent to North Coast Water Board officials with a request that they take enforcement action to end ongoing water quality and riparian degradation at those locations. 

You too can be a stream advocate. If you see pollution in a stream or mud covered logging trucks on the roads, call the North Coast Water Board at 707-576-2220, file a complaint online at, or turn the information over to an environmental organization. 

The pollution currently degrading North Coast and Klamath River streams is controllable. Citizen First Flush monitors can play a critical part in ending controllable pollution and restoring healthy streams.  


One need not be a Sierra Club member to participate in these outings. Please join us!

Sunday, January 8—North Group Ma-le’l Dunes Hike.

Get away from it all, close to the town of Manila on Humboldt Bay. Expansive sand dunes, lush coastal forest, tidelands, the beach. No dogs. Bring water and lunch. Carpools by prior arrangement, or BLM trailhead off SR 255 and Young Lane at 9 a.m. Heavy rain cancels. Easy hike, 5 miles, very little elevation change. Leader Ned,, 825-3652.

Opportunities for Activism

The North Group offers you the opportunity to use the clout of the nation’s oldest and largest environmental group to leverage progress on issues which are important to you. And the Club is the only major U.S. environmental organization which is democratically organized. Members vote to nominate and elect the national board as well as chapter and group executive committees. 

The North Group Executive Committee invites environmentally conscious citizens who want to work on local, regional or national conservation issues to join us. We currently seek a Conservation Chair and a Forest Management Chair. If you are interested or want more information contact Felice at 707-954-6588.


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