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Record low flows devastate the Scott & Shasta Rivers
An unprecedented series of record low flows rocked the Klamath's Scott and Shasta Rivers during the summer of 2009, leaving riverbeds dry and migrating salmon with no home. While low flows have been a chronic problem for some time on these rivers, ever-increasing water withdrawals are accelerating the issue, and this year's crisis - the worst on record - put water and fisheries managers on high alert for a large-scale fish kill.The Shasta River was once the most productive salmon river in California for its size, and the Shasta and Scott are still key habitat for Klamath coho, currently at just 2% of their historic numbers. While there's no quick fix to decades of water mismanagement on these vital salmon rivers, we can use this ongoing crisis to catalyze the legal and policy shifts necessary to reclaim the Scott and Shasta for fish. Read more about what KRK is doing.
- View a photo gallery of 2009's flow crisis on the Scott and Shasta
- View the USGS realtime Scott and Shasta streamflow gages
- KRK Press Releases
- 9/24/09 Fish Kill Conditions Brewing on Shasta River
- 8/19/09 Two Northern California Salmon Rivers Go Dry As Spawning Season Begins
- Download photos from our Press Room
De-watering the Scott and Shasta
Beginning in mid-July 2009, the USGS flow gages in the Shasta River canyon began showing a startling pattern of flow fluctuations with water flows dipping below 6 cubic feet per second. By early August, the Scott River gage at Ft. Jones was showing zero flow. These all time record low flows continued into the fall as salmon began trying to migrate back to these rivers, threatening a large scale fish kill as thousands of fish pooled up below the impassable low-flow zones. The following graphs show the late fall as the irrigation season ended, and are taken from USGS' realtime streamflow webpages, with red arrows added by KRK.
The Shasta gage shows flows increasing by 300% as irrigation season ends.
Re-watering the Scott and Shasta
Denizens of the Klamath know that getting guaranteed adequate flow on the Scott and Shasta Rivers is one of the holy grails of Klamath fisheries restoration. There is peer-reviewed science demonstrating that flow decreases on the Scott have been continual since the 1940s and are only partially explained by climate change. During the same time period, irrigation technology and a move to water-intensive crops has doubled agricultural water consumption. Though the Shasta has different hydrology and fish habitat than the Scott, the water story is similar. When you recall that no river in California produces as many salmon for its size as the Shasta River, and that Klamath coho are hanging on at 1-2% of past numbers, its restoration becomes paramount.
With the climate warming, its clear that agricultural diversions need to be reduced, not increased, if we are to adhere to the Endangered Species Act and restore fisheries habitat in these rivers. As many have noted, no amount of riparian planting and instream restoration will create more water in the Scott and Shasta. Despite well-intentioned work from from some landowners, much of the agricultural community has yet to voluntarily recognize that fishermen feed America too, and reduce their own water take accordingly. So how do we get more water in these rivers? Here's three avenues for action:
1. CDFG's watershed-wide coho-kill permitting program should be stopped. The currently proposed one-size-fits-all Incidental Take Permit system does not acknowledge the role of low flows in killing endangered species on the Scott and Shasta, and does not work toward restoring fisheries as the Endangered Species Act is intended to do in this context. Individual landowners must be held responsible for coho "take" due to de-watering. KRK is leading a lawsuit against this misguided program.
2. It's time to regulate groundwater pumping. The pumping of groundwater from alongside the river has fast become an easy way to get a seemingly unlimited amount of water for increasingly water-intensive alfalfa operations. It's time for the state of California to protect streamflows and fish habitat - public trust resources - and properly regulate groundwater pumping.
3. The Forest Service needs to exert its water right in the Scott River. According to page 12 of the Scott River water rights decree, USFS is legally entitled to instream flows in the Scott River that vary month by month but never dip below 30 cfs.
4. The Shasta River needs a water right reserved for fish. In emergencies, Shasta River water rights are currently modified only if they impact other water rights, and the area water master believes the 1932 Shasta River water rights decree 7035 makes this legal. Decree 7035 pre-dates the Endangered Species Act, climate change, and modern water pumping equipment. This decree must be changed to reflect modern times, and Shasta River fisheries must be given a water right.
Send an email
Use our website to quickly send an email to the California Department of Fish and Game telling them to protect salmon by getting more water in the river.
Make a phone call
Please call the following agency staff. These are the people whose jobs clearly give them the responsibility to quickly and effectively respond to a low-flow emergency with decisive action. Politely and clearly tell them you are concerned about crisis-level low flows on the Scott and Shasta and urge them to act before the situation is repeated in 2011.
1. NOAA Hotline for reporting killing of ESA listed species 1-800-853-1964
Request an investigation into who is killing coho on the Scott and Shasta Rivers.
2. Executive Officer Dorothy Rice at the State Water Resources Control Board, (916) 341-5615
The State Water Board should be properly enforcing water rights.
3. Steve Turek, Aquatic Supervisor at the CDF&G Northern Region Office (530) 225-2280 or email him at sturek [at] dfg.ca.gov. CDFG should be acting quickly to protect fisheries resources and avoid killing of endangered coho.