Recently, we reported on the destructively low flows plauging the Scott and Shasta Rivers.
The story – originally broken by North State water activist Felice Pace on his Klamblog site – made it clear that flows had fallen so low, that salmon and steelhead populations simply weren’t going to survive.
Pace noted that the federal government has an adjudicated water right that it seemed unwilling to exercise, and that unlimited groundwater pumping was a big part of the problem.
Now the story’s made it to the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, which offers up a fairly grim prognosis:
“Large areas of the (Scott) River have gone completely dry, stranding endangered coho salmon as well as chinook and steelhead in shallow, disconnected pools of water,” said Greg King, president of the nonprofit Siskiyou Land Conservancy, which has fought to protect the salmon runs in the Klamath River system.
“This could be the year that causes the coho to go extinct if they can’t get upstream in the Scott and Shasta.”
You can read the entire article here: Key salmon spawning rivers all but dry.
This whole mess isn’t simply the result of a three-year drought; excessive surface water diversions are a long-time problem, and the overharvesting of groundwater is a major factor in low stream flows.
Farmers and ranchers – trying to increase their harvest of often-marginal crops like alfalfa – have been increasingly turning to unregulated groundwater pumping to do so.
Low Flows Not the Whole Problem
The loss of some of the Klamath Basin’s best salmon and steelhead spawning habitat is only part of the problem.
The Scott and Shasta contribute badly needed cold water to the Klamath River, which suffers from high water temperatures and poor water quality – due in large part to the four Klamath River dams.
Remarkably, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors are fighting hard to retain the Klamath River dams and resisting any attempt to leave water in the rivers, in many cases suggesting the dams are actually helping salmon populations – despite the fact that the waters flow pea-soup green below the lowest dams in summer (the result of a toxic algae bloom).
In fact, a commonly heard refrain in Northern Siskiyou County is that “the salmon are gone anyway,” so no measures need to be taken.
In a political environment like that, it’s hard to imagine we’ll be reading too much good news about salmon and steelhead anytime soon.
See you on the non-existent Scott and Shasta Rivers, Tom Chandler.