Historically, the Shasta River provided the most productive salmon habitat in the Klamath Basin and California. This productivity was due to the river’s low gradient, and continuous flows of nutrient-rich cold spring water from the north slope of Mt. Shasta. Unfortunately, excessive agricultural water diversions and Dwinnell Dam (constructed in 1926) have decimated Chinook salmon runs in the Shasta River, while coho salmon runs are on the verge of extinction.
Our Endangered Species Act litigation settlement (reached in December, 2013) requires the operators of Dwinnell Dam on the Shasta River to release water for fish on a sustained basis for the first time since the dam was built in 1926. Specifically, it requires sustained releases of water for fish ranging from 2,250 and 11,000 acre-feet per year with the exact volume determined by precipitation levels. The settlement also requires that the irrigation facilities undergo an Endangered Species Act permitting process, which is currently underway.
Once the most productive salmon stream in California mile for mile, the Shasta River now has complex water quality and quantity problems that have decimated its fishery. Klamath Riverkeeper works with project partners to enforce environmental laws and challenge antiquated water usage, destructive dams and pollution.
Re-watering the Scott River
The Scott River is a Klamath River tributary that historically provided excellent salmon habitat due to its modest slope, considerable influx of cold water, and large complexes of beaver dams. Today, the Scott River is regularly dewatered by excessive, and increasing, agricultural water withdrawals. The river’s surface water has been over-allocated by a 1980 water right adjudication that provided virtually no water for instream uses for fish, wildlife, and recreation. The one exception is a small “instream” water right held by the United States Forest Service. At the same time, unregulated groundwater extraction from underneath the Scott River has increased rapidly in recent decades, causing river water to literally sink underground to fill a depleted aquifer.
Scott River water is governed by a 1980 water right adjudication that provides virtually no water for the river itself. Consequently, the adjudication does not comply with laws that have evolved since the adjudication was established – namely the Public Trust Doctrine and the Endangered Species Act.
Restoring Flows to Smaller Klamath River Tributaries
The recent drought and illegal water diversions have partially or completely de-watered several other streams that feed the lower Klamath river. This prevents adult and juvenile salmon from accessing cold streams when the river temperatures exceed lethal thresholds. It can also prevent juvenile coho salmon from accessing rearing habitat that they need for a full year before migrating to the ocean.
Because enforcement of environmental and water laws is virtually non-existent on these small streams, we are forming watershed committees that create a system of mutual accountability on specific streams.
This year Klamath Riverkeeper and our allies are assembling small working groups to protect flows in individual streams from harmful and illegal diversions. We believe that with mutual accountability and education we can compel many families and businesses to curtail unnecessary water diversions. In many cases streams can be re-watered through people’s willingness to improve their system’s efficiency – without even reducing actual consumption.