Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the Klamath Basin?

About the size of Maryland, the Klamath Basin encompasses over 12,000 square miles that stretch from the peaks of the Cascades in southeastern Oregon to the foggy, fern-riddled redwood forests of California’s north coast.

Why is the Klamath Basin so important?

The Klamath is home to California and Oregon’s largest Indian Tribes and to robust farming and ranching economies that date back to the late 1800s. It is a lynchpin of the West Coast’s commercial salmon industry and a major feeding and nesting ground for millions of migratory birds. The Klamath is one of the three major salmon producing rivers on the West Coast, the health of which determines ocean harvest allocations for commercial and sport salmon fishing industries (the other two are the Columbia and the Sacramento).

What is the history of salmon in the Klamath Basin?

The Klamath once saw salmon runs that averaged 1.2 million returning spawners annually. Today, the runs of Klamath salmon are a fraction of that number. Some species, such as chum and pink salmon, are now extinct in [extirpated from] the Klamath. Coho salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and spring-run Chinook salmon are on the verge of extinction.

Which Tribes are in the Klamath Basin?

The Yurok Tribe Reservation is located along the lower 40 miles of the Klamath River in northwestern California. Upstream is the Karuk Tribe, whose ancestral territory extends through the middle Klamath region. The Hoopa Valley Tribe is located along the Klamath’s largest tributary, the Trinity River, in California. The Shasta, Quartz Valley, and Resighini Tribes also call the Klamath Basin home. The Klamath Tribes (Klamath, Modoc, and the Yahooskin Band of Northern Paiute) are located in the Upper Klamath Basin in south central Oregon. Some members of the Modoc Tribe also live in Oklahoma and are actively invested in the river restoration process.

Why are native fish so important to Klamath Basin Tribes?

All Klamath Basin Tribes traditionally and contemporarily depend on salmon and other fisheries economically and culturally. Subsistence hunting and fishing for Tribal communities are still very real and important ways for these groups to feed themselves and their families.

The loss of salmon has robbed Tribes of a truly renewable economic base and an irreplaceable cultural resource. In the natural lakes of the Upper Klamath Basin, endemic sucker species are also in steep decline. Suckers are a traditional food for the Klamath Tribes of Oregon.

How does the health of native fish affect agriculture in the Klamath Basin?

With fisheries in decline, water curtailments and other regulations have affected the region’s robust agricultural economy. The federal Klamath Irrigation Project serves over 1,400 family farms on 225,000 acres. There are many other farms and ranches outside the Project that also depend on water diversions. Because of the economic connections between the Klamath’s small rural communities, the collapse of the fisheries is affecting the livelihoods of nearly everyone in the Klamath Basin.

How do the Klamath Basin’s limited water supplies affect birds?

The lakes and marshes of the Upper Klamath Basin are a major feeding and nesting ground for millions of birds that are year-round residents and/or traverse the Pacific Flyway. In recognition of the importance of the area for waterfowl, President Theodore Roosevelt created the nation’s first wildlife refuge in 1908 – the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Today the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes 192,000 acres of wetlands and marshes including Bear Valley, Klamath Marsh, and Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon; and Lower Klamath, Tule Lake, and Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuges in California. Unfortunately, the struggle to balance water use between fisheries and agriculture often leaves the refuges dry, leading to severe declines in wild bird populations.

Why are Klamath fisheries in decline?

There are many factors that contribute to fish declines such as dams, water diversions, poor logging practices, large fish hatcheries, destruction of natural wetlands, poor water quality, and road building. Perhaps the greatest of these factors has been the lower four Klamath dams, which blocked salmon access to hundreds of miles of historical habitat and greatly impaired water quality for more than a century. These dams are in the process of being removed, and all four are expected to be completely dismantled before the end of 2024.

What causes the Klamath River’s toxic algae blooms?

The Klamath’s headwaters originate in the volcanic geology of southwestern Oregon, making the river’s water naturally rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. Historically, the vast wetlands of the Upper Basin consumed much of these nutrients before the river flowed downstream. Today, much of the wetlands have been lost. Now the nutrient-rich waters of the Klamath flow downstream where they had, until recently, been impounded by the dams that are in the process of being removed. With the reservoirs now drained, it is expected that concerns about toxic algae will be severely diminished or even eliminated altogether from the Klamath River moving forward.

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Why are four hydropower dams being removed from the Klamath River?

After decades of debate and fact finding, a coalition made up of former dam owner PacifiCorp, the States of California and Oregon, local Tribes, conservation groups, fishermen, and counties reached an agreement to remove the lower four Klamath River dams. These dams impaired water quality, blocked fish passage to hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat and fostered toxic algae blooms. Upgrading the dams to meet modern permit and license requirements would have cost more than removing them. The power generated by the dams was relatively small and has been replaced by other sources managed by PacifiCorp. More information on the dam removal process can be found at

Will dam removal mean less water for farming and ranching?

No. The dams targeted for removal do not provide any irrigation or drinking water diversions whatsoever. In fact, by dramatically improving water quality and fish health, dam removal will likely lead to fewer regulatory burdens for farmers and ranchers.

Will dam removal alone restore the Klamath River to health?

Dam removal is but one piece of the river restoration and revitalization puzzle. Protecting and restoring natural areas and floodplains along rivers and streams throughout the basin and increasing flow through water conservation and irrigation efficiency are examples of additional activities that are critical to restoring ecological balance to the basin.

Do all salmon return to the exact same river in which they were born?

Although salmon generally return to the creeks or streams where they are born, a small percentage either get lost or look for better habitat when they migrate upstream to spawn. This behavior, known as “straying,” allows salmon to populate creeks or streams that do not have established spawning populations or to repopulate waters that were previously not accessible for either human-made or nature-caused reasons. Dams often block access to high quality habitat. Natural disasters like volcanic eruptions, landslides, and earthquakes can also close off high-quality habitat. When such habitat is accessible again to fish, over time they will reestablish a connection to that area. We expect to see this same pattern in the Klamath River watershed: some percentage of returning salmon will “stray” into high quality tributaries, like Jenny Creek above the Iron Gate site, and future generations of fish will then return there to spawn.

Aren’t there still two dams located on the Klamath River? Is it really appropriate to say the Klamath River is now “free flowing”?

The Klamath River is considered freely flowing now that all four hydroelectric dams have been breached.  As the habitat has changed from a slow impounded condition to a more energetic river condition, the time it takes for a drop of water to flow through this reach has been reduced from several weeks to less than a day. Although dam removal operations are still underway, the river is flowing unimpeded nearly 260 miles.  While a free-flowing Klamath River is central to the dam removal project, it is important to note that the mainstem river is not the only habitat the fish will be able to access. A major goal of dam removal is to reopen access to roughly 400 miles of mainstem river and tributaries, including creeks and streams that feature high quality habitat that has been blocked since Copco Dam was built a century ago.

While the headwaters of the Klamath River include rivers above Upper Klamath Lake, such as the Williamson, Sprague, and Wood Rivers, the Klamath River technically begins in the City of Klamath Falls. A short 1-mile stream known as the Link River flows into the 18-mile-long Lake Ewauna, and the Klamath River begins where Lake Ewauna ends. While Lake Ewauna and Upper Klamath Lake are natural lakes, today both feature small dams (Link and Keno) that regulate their outflow and control irrigation diversions.  There are plans to ensure that these remaining small dams above the Klamath River will improve their existing fish passage capacity, but Link and Keno dams are not part of the Klamath River Renewal Project. To put the remaining dams into perspective, Keno Dam is 25 feet tall, Link River Dam is 22 feet tall, and Iron Gate Dam was recently 173 feet high, but is diminishing day by day as the deconstruction project continues.