Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Undamming this major U.S. river is opening a world of possibility for native cultures and wildlife

“The run of salmon in the Klamath River this year is the heaviest it has ever known. There are millions of fish below the falls near Keno, and it is said that a man with a gaff could easily land a hundred of the salmon in an hour, in fact they could be caught as fast as a man could pull them in.
—Klamath Falls Evening Herald front page on Sept. 24, 1908.

Flowing over 250 miles to from the high desert of southern Oregon through the Cascades Mountains before emptying out into the Pacific Ocean in northern California, the Klamath River and its Coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead runs were vital to Native American tribes for thousands of years before settlers arrived. But within decades of their arrival there would be half a dozen dams constructed on the river, effectively blocking salmon and steelhead migrations on what was once the third-highest salmon producing river on the West Coast. The river that was fabled for its millions of salmon each season saw significant decreases following dam construction. But now after nearly a century, an agreement has finally been reached to remove four dams on the Klamath River by 2020 as the first step towards restoring the salmon and steelhead migrations in the Klamath basin. The deal to carry out one of the largest dam removal projects in U.S. history was reached after years of effort by diverse stakeholders including the local Native American tribes, county, state and federal agencies, irrigators, farmers, and conservation and fishing groups...While the Klamath Tribes, as well as other local tribes including the Yurok and Karuk, have signed and welcomed the agreement—which followed years of grassroots efforts by the tribes and environmental activists—they warned that a comprehensive water deal to assist with salmon restoration was still missing. “Without a full package on restoration it’s still a very difficult road to restore the salmon,” Gentry said. Salmon need specific water quality and temperatures to thrive, and irrigators also need to be able to use water from the river for their livelihoods So during dry years, there are often opposing claims to water—making it an issue that must be addressed. This type of overlapping and oftentimes conflicting water allocation is a major problem with regional water treaties across the country...There are over 1,200 family farms and ranches in the Klamath Reclamation Project area. That was a 1905 project to create irrigable land on both sides of the California-Oregon border, according to the Klamath Water Users Association—a non-profit representing those farmers and ranchers...more

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