Location: Flowing through Oregon and California on a 260-mile journey, the Klamath River drains an area of 12,000 square miles before draining into the Pacific Ocean north of Eureka, CA near the town of Klamath, CA. Included in this area are almost 350,000 acres of natural wetlands that provide excellent water quality and support millions of migratory birds.
Types of salmon supported historically: Chinook salmon, coho salmon, pink salmon, chum salmon, and steelhead species all spawned in the Klamath River historically.
Estimated numbers of salmon historically: In the past, the Klamath was the third most productive Pacific salmon river in the lower 48 states. Annual spawning runs numbered between 660,000 and 1.1 million fish. These fish represented a major food source for the Klamath Basin’s Native American Tribes including the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa, and Klamath nations.
Current status: Today, the once mighty Klamath salmon runs are only 10% or less of their former size. Coho salmon have been listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Native Americans have had to reduce their salmon intake and switch to less nutritious “fast food” – the health effects of this transition have been devastating.
Major threat to salmon in this river: Four dams on the mainstem Klamath River block access to hundreds of miles of spawning territory on the Klamath and its tributaries. The reservoirs behind the dams create water conditions that provide ideal habitat for extremely toxic algae blooms that threaten the health of people living along or recreating in the river. These dams also restrict water flow and dump warm water on the migrating salmon below them. This warm water fosters the spread of disease and can lead to massive fish kills.
Years of logging and overgrazing in the habitat around the rivers has caused high sediment loads in rivers where salmon spawn. This sediment causes water quality problems that kill incubating salmon eggs, larvae, and juvenile salmon. Also, during rainstorms, water flows off the denuded hillsides so quickly that it damages in-stream habitat for salmon.
Needed Actions: Remove the four Klamath River dams (Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2, and JC Boyle). Removal of the dams on the mainstem Klamath would return salmon to their historic spawning grounds and eliminate conditions that support extremely toxic algae. These dams are privately owned thus, some compensation of the owner is recommended.
Protect and restore upper, mid, and lower Klamath tributaries. Halting harmful land management practices (logging, roads, grazing, mining) in riparian and roadless areas in Klamath tributaries would help restore salmon and steelhead habitat.