Photo Credit: Klamath Salmon Media Collaborative


Dam removal on the Klamath River is right around the corner. Dam removal will reconnect stretches of the Klamath Basin that have been disrupted for anadromous fish migrations since dam construction began in the early 20th century. Dam removal is slated to begin in 2023. When that project is complete, salmon, steelhead, and lamprey will have unfettered access to large portions of the river for the first time in a century. This is excellent news for Klamath Basin communities and the species of animals that play such important roles in the ecosystems of the Basin.

Dam removal is an essential step towards improving the ecological health of the Klamath River. While there is a lot of focus on restoring river reaches upstream of the dams that will now host salmon for the first time in a century, we cannot lose sight of the need to improve habitat and flow conditions in key tributaries downstream. A prime example is the Scott River sub-basin.

Located entirely in Siskiyou County, the 58-mile-long tributary meets the Klamath about 150 river miles from the Pacific Ocean and 50 miles downstream of Iron Gate dam. The Scott hosts native runs of Chinook, Pacific lamprey, steelhead, and Coho salmon. The Scott is particularly important for ESA listed Coho salmon. Fisheries biologists believe the majority of Klamath Coho left alive use the Scott at some point in their lifecycle.

The Scott River has been dramatically altered by various resource management projects over the last 100 years. Its waters support agricultural irrigation needs throughout the Scott Valley. The same thing that makes it valuable for agricultural producers is the same reason it’s so valuable to Klamath basin fisheries – large stores of cold groundwater that interconnect with surface flows.

Because the water rights adjudication for the Scott Valley failed to include most of the groundwater use, there has been very little in the way of regulation for groundwater users. This leads to dewatering of the river in dry years with little regulatory oversight.

Last year, with drought bearing down on Northern California, Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency. This gives the State Water Board the authority to curtail water use in the Scott Basin. As the drought drags on, so do these curtailment orders that restrict water use unless specified stream flows are met.

Additionally, California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requires authorities in the Scott Basin to develop a groundwater management plan. The goal of SGMA is to prevent over pumping of California’s precious groundwater stores. Information on this process can be found at Siskiyou County’s website.

While the riddle of Scott River water management is far from solved, efforts are being made to manage water to allow for agricultural users to remain while ensuring the Scott can continue to play a fundamental role in Klamath Basin fisheries production.

The Scott River Watershed Council is an excellent resource for those interested in learning more about the Scott River watershed and engaging in productive conversations about how to support the human and animal communities that rely on it. Last week the Council held their annual Scott Watershed Informational Forum which serves as an opportunity for those interested in sharing information about issues related to the watershed. The Council publishes informative reports on various environmental topics related to the watershed and organizes outreach and educational projects to inform the public about conditions on the river.

Next week’s blog will focus on the Shasta River’s need for evolving water management agreements that take into account that watershed’s specific hydrological qualities.