The Klamath River flows 253 miles from Southern Oregon to the
California coast, draining a basin of more than 15,000 square
miles. The watershed and its fisheries have been the subject of
negotiation since the 1860s negotiations that have intensified
and continue to this day.
The river has provided irrigation to ag lands since the late 19th
century. Agricultural development drained vast areas of
wetlands on the periphery of Upper Klamath Lake and in
upstream watersheds. Some of this drained acreage has been
restored and is now managed primarily for wetland benefits.
The watershed is divided geographically into two basins, upper
and lower, divided by Iron Gate Dam, the lower most dam on the
river. The Upper Basin is dry, with annual precipitation of about
13 inches at the river’s origin near Klamath Falls, Ore.
Downstream, the climate grows wetter.
Native Americans have a significant presence in the Klamath
Basin. Four major tribes have been influential in water
negotiations: the Klamath Tribes, the Karuk Tribe, the Hoopa
Valley Tribe and the Yurok Tribe.
In 2021, four large dams on the Klamath River are due to be
demolished, in part to revive the river and Klamath Basin
salmon. But unless salmon hatchery operations are discontinued
soon afterward on the river, the effort will founder. Allowing
hatchery salmon to mix with struggling native salmon after
removing the dams is like rescuing a dying man only to slowly
Fishing isn’t supposed to be as easy as dipping a hook into
water and pulling out a fish. I’m told it’s an exercise in
patience, and that you’ll often come home empty-handed. But
those insights do not describe my experience on a recent
camping trip near the Oregon border. There, in a reservoir on
the Klamath River, yellow perch—a species not native to
California — thrives in water made artificially still by Iron
If the decommissioning goes through as planned (the latest
timetable aims for a drawdown sometime in 2021) it will be the
largest dam removal project in U.S. history, with major
implications for environmental restoration, the salmon fishery,
agriculture and local tribes. But a recent Federal Appeals
Court decision is having repercussions that extend far beyond
the Klamath River Basin.
The Klamath River has seen its native fish populations plunge
and its water quality decline, in part because of four
hydropower dams built in its middle reach a century ago. In the
coming years, these dams will be removed, creating the largest
dam removal and river restoration project in the country. We
talked to Lester Snow, board president of the Klamath River
Renewal Corporation, about this effort.
The Yurok Tribe recently became the first indigenous community
in the United States to be awarded the Equator Prize by the
United Nations Development Programme, which honors “innovative
nature-based solutions for tackling climate change, environment
and poverty challenges.”
In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling extended the public trust doctrine to tributary creeks that feed Mono Lake, which is a navigable water body even though the creeks themselves were not. The ruling marked a dramatic shift in water law and forced Los Angeles to cut back its take of water from those creeks in the Eastern Sierra to preserve the lake.
Now, a state appellate court has for the first time extended that same public trust doctrine to groundwater that feeds a navigable river, in this case the Scott River flowing through a picturesque valley of farms and alfalfa in Siskiyou County in the northern reaches of California.
Mired in drought, expectations are high that new storage funded
by Prop. 1 will be constructed to help California weather the
adverse conditions and keep water flowing to homes and farms.
At the same time, there are some dams in the state eyed for
removal because they are obsolete – choked by accumulated
sediment, seismically vulnerable and out of compliance with
federal regulations that require environmental balance.
20-minute version of the 2012 documentary The Klamath Basin: A
Restoration for the Ages. This DVD is ideal for showing at
community forums and speaking engagements to help the public
understand the complex issues related to complex water management
disputes in the Klamath River Basin. Narrated by actress Frances
For over a century, the Klamath River Basin along the Oregon and
California border has faced complex water management disputes. As
relayed in this 2012, 60-minute public television documentary
narrated by actress Frances Fisher, the water interests range
from the Tribes near the river, to energy producer PacifiCorp,
farmers, municipalities, commercial fishermen, environmentalists
– all bearing legitimate arguments for how to manage the water.
After years of fighting, a groundbreaking compromise may soon
settle the battles with two epic agreements that hold the promise
of peace and fish for the watershed. View an excerpt from the
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership
with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an
excellent overview of climate change and how it is already
affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists
anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and
precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are
underway to plan and adapt to climate.
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays
the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas
and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The
map text explains the many issues facing this vast,
15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration;
agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are
descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement,
and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development
of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect
gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the
definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the
state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s
natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts
– including federally, state and locally funded
projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and
natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of
California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects,
wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the
text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water
projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado
On the Klamath River, the Upper Klamath Basin’s aquatic
ecosystems are naturally very productive due to its
However, this high productivity makes the Basin’s lakes
vulnerable to water quality problems.
Nutrient loads in the Upper Klamath Basin are a primary driver of
water quality problems along the length of the Klamath River,
including algal blooms in the Klamath Hydroelectric Project
reservoirs. Municipal and industrial discharges of wastewater in
the Klamath Falls area add to the nutrient load.
This issue of Western Water examines the challenges facing state,
federal and tribal officials and other stakeholders as they work
to manage terminal lakes. It includes background information on
the formation of these lakes, and overviews of the water quality,
habitat and political issues surrounding these distinctive bodies
of water. Much of the information in this article originated at
the September 2004 StateManagement Issues at Terminal Water
Bodies/Closed Basins conference.
The story of the Klamath River is the story of two basins.
In the upper basin, farming has long been the way of life. Even
before passage of the 1902 Reclamation Act, settlers had begun
the arduous process of reclaiming vast tracts of wetlands and
transforming them into rich farmland.