Clean Water Needed for Klamath River

The Klamath River and Trinity River system was once the third-largest producer of salmon and steelhead on the West Coast, but now produces fewer and fewer wild fish as a result of antiquated dams, habitat degradation and massive water withdrawals. Dams and dewatering have made hundreds of miles of spawning habitat inaccessible or unusable.

EPIC (the Environmental Protection Information Center) is leading the fight to get the state of California to enforce requirements on water quality for the existing dams. I spoke recently with Andrew Orahoske, EPIC’s Conservation Director.

“The state has water quality standards that currently are not being met. So water that is in the Klamath River, both in the reservoirs and coming out the bottom of the dams, is at times throughout the year polluted with either toxic algae or elevated water temperatures. [That] is hurting the salmon both through increasing the prevalence of disease, [and creating] toxic conditions that result in dead salmon,” Andrew told me.

When the dams block the flow of clean water, the water pools up behind the dams. The sun beats down on it and “in the summertime temperatures can get over 100 degrees”. As well, “there’s a significant amount of agricultural runoff that enters the river, and when the water slows down like that in a reservoir, it basically stratifies and creates a breeding ground for toxic algae blooms as well as a lack of oxygen in the water”. These factors combine to “really reduce the water quality for the fish” No one wants a repeat of what happened in 2002 – “there was a fish kill of around 70,000 salmon when the river was so low and so warm [that] it promoted the development of disease and killed tens of thousands of fish,” Andrew revealed.

Klamath River“The main stem of the Klamath is very important to the salmon that are running,” Andrew stated. The Spring Chinook are “on the brink of extinction and we petitioned for listing of the Upper Klamath and Trinity River Spring Chinook Salmon under the Endangered Species Act.  The national marine fisheries service is conducting a review because they did find that the petition presented substantial information that they may need to list the species.”

EPIC and several other conservation groups sent a letter to the California State Water Resources Control Board urging an end to the ongoing delay in Clean Water Act certification for the Klamath dams. As the groups suggest, the Klamath River can’t wait.

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Alison Wheatley

Alison Wheatley

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