Klamath River,    News,    scott river salmon

Abundant Salmon Returning To Scott River... But Where's Their Water?

Posted by Tom Chandler 10/11/2012

Few anglers fish the Scott River -- and those that do generally don't talk about it publicly -- but this Klamath River tributary winds through ag country in rural Siskiyou County and supports healthy salmon and steelhead runs -- when there's water.

Right now, a sizable number ESA-listed Chinook salmon are holding at the Shasta's mouth, waiting for enough water to flow so they can swim upstream and spawn.

Will that water ever appear?

Scott River Salmon (Image Mike Hupp, Dawn Patrol Images) They circle. They wait. Will the water ever come? (Image courtesy Mike Hupp, Dawn Patrol Images)

 

Or will crowded conditions and low, warm flows lead to the rapid spread of disease -- and perhaps even a fishkill?

While the salmon circle endlessly, the Karuk and Yurok tribes wonder why the U.S. Forest Service isn't exercising a their legal water right to protect the salmon:

The Forest Service’s water right for the month of August is 30 cubic feet per second (cfs). Their right is 40 cfs in October to accommodate adult migration. Currently the river is running at 18 cfs, which is simply not enough water for migrating salmon to make it up river to reproduce.

Despite the fact that the number of days per year that the USFS water right is not met has increased steadily since the 1980 adjudication, the agency has never lodged a complaint with California Water Resources Control Board. Before the adjudication, it was rare for flows to ever drop below 30 cubic feet per second (cfs). In fact between 1942 and 1980, the Scott dropped below 30 cfs on average only 5.6 days a year, mostly in drought years. Between 1980 and 2009, the flows dipped below 30 cfs on average 35 days a year. This year, the river has been below 30 cfs since August 3rd!

Agricultural water users contend the river simply doesn't flow much in the fall, but historical data (see last paragraph above) suggests flows are decreasing, and that it's likely something else is at work.

Water diversions for ag are often mentioned, and as local water activist Felice Pace has pointed out, increased pumping of groundwater seems tied to decreasing flows in the Scott.

Whatever the cause for the decline -- and unless there simply isn't any water being diverted -- it's clear the US Forest Service should make their legally allowed water call to protect the ESA listed salmon.

See you swimming in circles, Tom Chandler.

AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

15 comments
Thanks for this great comment and the information. Some have long been critical of the water rights buybacks, contending they seller often turns around and replaces the water by pumping un-regulated groundwater, which has the effect of lowering the stream flows. You're right that it's complex, and while the Forest Service doesn't have an easy answer right now, they certainly have had opportunities ... more to improve flows in the past (especially a little earlier in the year). The numbers showing the declining flows are real, and probably the result of all the wells (see comment below). If that's true -- and no one can force regulation of groundwater pumping -- then I'd suggest the Scott River salmon are probably lost, a fact which will please any number of people in the county. I'd like to see the Forest Service and others not let that happen without at least a hint of a fight.
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This came from a Klamath Riverkeeper op-ed piece: It’s also of note that precipitation patterns have not significantly changed over the years of record, so changing weather patterns are not to blame. What has changed? The number of wells drilled in Scott Valley. Prior to 1980, there were 406 wells, of which 99 were specified as irrigation wells. As of 2010, there were 790 wells in Scott Valley, 172 ... more of which were specified as irrigation wells. Because they were drilled outside the “zone of adjudication,” these new wells are not regulated and not part of the adjudication. That is to say the existing adjudication no longer describes water use in the valley since these new wells effectively suck water out from under existing water rights holders including the Forest Service. This fact has recently been documented by a groundwater analysis by the Karuk Tribe.
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Brian Thomas: I should point out that the Chinook salmon in the Klamath River Basin are NOT listed under the ESA. The Coho in the Klamath River Basin are a listed species (Threatened) but the Chinook are not. The Chinook in the Klamath River Basin are currently listed as a Forest Service Sensitive Species in CA. Thanks for the reminder. I keep making the mistake; I've heard about the Chinook being ... more "protected" and tend to conflate the two. I'll fix it.
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Comment on Abundant Salmon Returning To Scott River… But Where’s Their Water? by Peter http://t.co/smSXhVbI
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My daughter spent a year in Americorps working out of Yreka, tending to fish counts, river projects, and education/outreach. I visited her in the summer of 2007 and developed just a little bit of understanding of some of the issues, and a respect and odd attachment to the area - even though it's a long place from Wisconsin. After my daughter's Americorps service ended she spent the next two years ... more earning her MS in Environmental Science from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UCSB. She's working in a related field now and I thought I'd ask her opinion of what could be done. Here's what she had to say: "When I was up in Siskiyou that there was so little water in the Scott River that DFG and some other agencies and environmental groups actually purchased water from willing sellers (landowners who had riparian water rights on the river) to increase the flows for the fish. They purchased a few hundred CFS for a week or so, and it wasn't cheap (1 cfs per day is about 2 acre feet, and an acre-foot typically goes for quite a bit if you're not an agricultural user, see: http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/62896) to get a pulse in streamflow that would hopefully queue the salmon to start migrating up the river. Anyway, because the river is roughly 60 miles long from the headwaters to the confluence with the Klamath, and since there are probably a couple hundred landowners (i couldn't find a quick reference, so i'm just guessing) with riparian water rights diverting water from the stream, virtually ZERO increase in flow was seen at the confluence. So, basically, all this taxpayer and donor money went into getting a little bit more water for all the guys diverting water from the stream (or infiltrated into the groundwater) and NONE went for the fish. The problem is that there is no way to tell exactly where that water went or if it was taken legally or illegally (riparian water right holders are usually allowed to divert up to a certain amount depending on the time of year, and they may or may not have been over that; e.g., if a single water rights holder was allowed to divert 10 cfs, and he was diverting 7 before the pulse and 9 during, he would be in his right but also taking 2cfs of the water purchased for the fish); and even if there were a way to figure it out where the water was going, I find it hard to believe that that enforcement/legal action would be possible. So I think the main problem here is that even though flows are below the required 40 cfs, who does the Forest Service go after to get its water? Even if the Forest Service gets the guys in charge to release a bit more water from the dam, I'm betting that water is gone from riparian diversions or groundwater infiltration/pumping long before the fish benefit from it. If there were a whole lot of Coho (which is actually an endangered species; Chinook isn't in the Klamath) in the Shasta River, they might have a small chance at getting a judge to take action....but I doubt even that in this political climate." The culprit, of course, seems to be the system for water allocation among various types of users, and allocation totals that exceed available flows from time to time. The link cited by my daughter has more detail on the issues involved, but in my opinion it seems to come down to over-allocation and a Tragedy of the Commons situation. The authors of the article at the link above propose a market-based approach to water allocation as a possible remedy, and have some excellent reasoning for it. It's tragic, of course, that the current legal/regulation-based approach can't seem to come even close to helping the fish. As my daughter points out: Who would CA Fish & Wildlife even go after? At least with a market approach to allocation I could send a check somewhere. As things stand, we seem able only to stand and shout our complaints fruitlessly into a fog. Pretty depressing stuff. Pass me the bottle..
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Comment on Abundant Salmon Returning To Scott River… But Where’s Their Water? by Noiso http://t.co/J9ojXrNe
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OOOPS....That's what happens when I try to remember another lifetime far far away......
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Comment on Abundant Salmon Returning To Scott River… But Where’s Their Water? by Benjamin Rioux http://t.co/8tNvJPWz
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JP2: …Gatesland,Gatesland uber alles……Apologies to the Replacements but then the ‘blue denium secret police’ are back aren’t they? I think you mean the Dead Kennedys? http://youtu.be/jN-_UOvwNA8
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I should point out that the Chinook salmon in the Klamath River Basin are NOT listed under the ESA. The Coho in the Klamath River Basin are a listed species (Threatened) but the Chinook are not. The Chinook in the Klamath River Basin are currently listed as a Forest Service Sensitive Species in CA. That said, the Forest Service should definitely exercise their legal right for 40 cfs in the Scott in ... more October to help protect the Chinook.
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...Gatesland,Gatesland uber alles......Apologies to the Replacements but then the 'blue denium secret police' are back aren't they?
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JP2: WELLLLLwe here in BillGatesLand are about to get the first real rain in 83 days,so with some kinda luck it’s going to slide south and give all you Jefferson Staters some wet weather for the fishys….. I didn't realize Bill Gates controlled the weather up there too. And yes, send some this way. The fishies need it...
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WELLLLL we here in BillGatesLand are about to get the first real rain in 83 days,so with some kinda luck it's going to slide south and give all you Jefferson Staters some wet weather for the fishys.....
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Seems like an easy call from where I'm sitting. Amazing that we can't do more to prevent situations like this.
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Abundant Salmon Returning To Scott River... But Where's Their Water? http://t.co/ci4YfRDT
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