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 the Klamath. Coho salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and spring-run Chinook salmon 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 Klamath Tribes (Klamath, Modoc, and the Yahooskin Band of Northern Paiute) are located in the Upper Klamath Basin in south central Oregon. The Hoopa Valley Tribe is located along the Klamath’s largest tributary, the Trinity River, in California.

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 are the lower four Klamath dams, which block salmon access to hundreds of miles of historical habitat and greatly impair water quality. 

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 it is impounded by dams forming shallow, warm reservoirs. These relatively warm reservoirs create the perfect conditions for the toxic algae Microcystis aeruginosa to bloom, creating a serious threat to residents and unsuspecting recreational users alike. Up to date health warnings and other information on Klamath toxic algae blooms can be found at www.kbmp.net and mywaterquality.ca.gov/habs/data_viewer.
Why are four hydropower dams being removed from the Klamath River?
After decades of debate and fact finding, a coalition made up of dam owner PacifiCorp, California, Oregon, local Tribes, conservation groups, fishermen, and counties reached an agreement to remove the lower four Klamath River dams. These dams impair water quality, block fish passage to hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat and foster toxic algae blooms. Upgrading the dams to meet modern permit and license requirements would cost more than removing them. The power generated by the dams is relatively small and can be replaced by other sources managed by PacifiCorp. More information on the dam removal process can be found at www.klamathrenewal.org.
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.