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John Spencer: Klamath River has rich history
Redding Record Searchlight January 1, 2011 column
In my past two columns, removal of the dams on the upper Klamath River was discussed along with some interesting history. To this day, there remains more issues regarding saving the salmon.

Records reveal the Klamath has a rich past. Various downstream tribal rights have been claimed for salmon by the Hoopa, Karuk and Yurok Tribes since 1864.

Klamath River upstream tribal rights were terminated in 1954 and most of the tribal lands converted to private or federal ownership. Tribe members were paid off when the reservation and rights were terminated. These rights, however, survived termination and were confirmed back to the tribe in a series of court decisions in the 1970s.

A 1981 consent decree stemming from litigation also confirmed the tribe’s rights and responsibilities to co-manage, with the federal and state agencies, resources on the former reservation.

Termination was superseded and federal recognition of the tribe was restored in 1986 by the Klamath Tribe Restoration Act, which recognized and protected its hunting, fishing and gathering rights. There are four tribes involved in the future of the Klamath River and the anadromous fish runs.

Around 1912 the improved irrigation came when affordable power through the local hydroelectric projects by California-Oregon Power Co. became available. This allowed for the pumping of water directly from the rivers or from the groundwater instead of from gravity-fed long ditches. The amount of lands under irrigation mushroomed from 57,000 acres in Siskiyou County in 1912, to 100,000 acres in 1914.

In 1905, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began its Klamath irrigation project near Klamath Falls. Marshes were drained (reclaimed), and dikes and levees were constructed. What resulted was a major transformation of the hydrology of the Upper Klamath Basin. Lower Klamath Lake shrank to a fraction of its former size. The level of the Upper Klamath Lake was raised to provide better flow regulation; its average depth is now about 12 feet.

The irrigation water in the upper basin is primarily provided by diversions from Upper Klamath Lake through a canal above the Link River Dam, and the Lost River system, which connects the Klamath River and the Lost River through a channel about three miles south of the city of Klamath Falls.

The main river systems running into Klamath Lake are the Williamson River, Wood River and the Sprague River. Above Klamath Lake is Agency Lake, fed by the Wood River.

All of these waters are noted for great trout fishing to this date. An Oregon state biologist, who studied the fisheries in Klamath Lake, advised me that a 1-year-old rainbow trout would grow to 18 inches due to the abundance of food in the lake. Many trophy-sized trout are caught in the Williamson River around Chiloquin. The Upper Klamath Basin is a very fantastic ecosystem.

The Klamath River Basin Task Force report lists the following issues in an effort to protect and sustain salmon, which is mainly habitat protection:

@Bodycopy bullet:Timber harvesting



Water and power projects

Irrigation diversions


It seems that since all this came about, water releases on the Klamath have been quite good and there seems to be a cooperative effort to maintain minimum flows and temperatures. I am not sure the battle for fish or farms in the upper basin has healed up yet.

About removing the dams, I hear a variety of comments and questions that perhaps may not have been answered. Maybe no one From Pacific Power or Scottish Power, as the case may be, wishes to comment now with regard to dam removal. Our governor, as I understand, flew up to Portland and signed an agreement to take out the dams.

What am I hearing about all of this? What is all this dam removal going to cost and who will pay for it? What about lake bottom silt? How about flood control? Will there be radical environmental changes? Will all the fantastic yellow perch fishing disappear? Will removing the dams actually destroy environments and aquatic insects? What will removal do to the basin farmers? How will it affect whitewater rafting and fishing? The list goes on.

Surely, there are alternatives.

I have again heard from anglers up and down the river. Several anglers including myself have observed the harvesting of salmon roe eggs to such an extent that it is hurting the resource. When steelhead fishing, I and others have observed many female salmon caught, sliced open for the roe, and then discarded. Of course it is a violation, but very hard to enforce most times.

On one occasion, I observed a drift boat from Oregon, catching salmon after salmon and releasing them after taking the roe. At a boat take-out, I observed a large ice chest full of roe skeins. When asked what they were doing with all that roe, they indicated it was their supply for fishing winter steelhead on the coastal streams. They were reported to the Fish and Game Department.

If one was to multiply this type of hoarding roe with hundreds of boats that fish the salmon runs each year, I would assume that in itself is a serious threat to the salmon populations. The greater percentage of salmon anglers in the upper Klamath and on the Sacramento also perhaps, use fresh roe to catch their fish. In talking to other anglers, the opinion is that if this type of roe hoarding cannot be effectively enforced, perhaps the Fish and Game Commission should prohibit the use of roe fishing for salmon in the rivers altogether.

John Spencer is a longtime angler and north state resident. He can be reached at john.spencer2010@hotmail.com.

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