SCOTT AND SHASTA RIVERS DE-WATERED IN CRITICAL SPAWNING SEASON: Inadequate late-summer flows on the Klamath River are, unfortunately, nothing unusual, but the series of low flows currently assailing the Scott and Shasta Rivers, two critical tributaries to the mainstem Klamath, is simply unprecedented. The Klamath is a river which flows from southern Oregon through northern California and historically supported runs averaging 880,000 salmon, but dams, water diversions, pollution, and more have all put a serious dent in these fish populations. This year, poor water quality due to toxic algae will also threaten aquatic life (see 15:27/204 below). And salmon migrating back to their natal waters to spawn on the Scott and Shasta Rivers are also in for a nasty surprise.
According to river-advocacy group Klamath Riverkeeper, instead of the 69 cubic feet per second (cfs) that is average for this time of year, flows on the Scott River have plummeted to less than 1 cfs, and large sections of the river are now completely dry. The Shasta River is running about 6 cfs, down from an average of 30 cfs. The low water levels will provide terrible habitat for coho and chinook that require cold, clear, flowing water to reproduce successfully. Entire sections of the rivers have been transformed into a series of disconnected pools which have the potential to strand huge numbers of fish. Chinook are currently entering the Klamath at its Pacific mouth, and they will arrive at the tributaries within days, making the mission to restore flows to the Scott and Shasta something of a race against time. ESA-listed coho salmon use both tributaries heavily as spawning areas.
The reason for the dewatered rivers is three dry years in a row coupled with excessive irrigation withdrawals for Scott and Shasta Valley agriculture. Natural resource agencies with jurisdiction over the rivers, including the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), California Department of Fish & Game and the U.S. Forest Service (which has a water right on the Scott River) have so far taken no steps to restore water to the rivers. PCFFA’s Glen Spain spoke out about the seriousness of the low flows. “As fishing dependent communities, we are very concerned about the dewatering of the Scott and Shasta Rivers this year. This puts years of local landowners’ restoration efforts, costing millions of dollars, at risk. Fish swim in water, not dry riverbeds.”
Klamath Riverkeeper Erica Terence recommends that concerned citizens speak up, bringing attention to this issue and urging officials and water users to execute an action plan that will restore flows before dry riverbeds wipe out more threatened salmon runs.