The Conservation Column
Klamath River Dams Update

By Juliet Grable

As I’m sure most of you are aware, removal of the Klamath River dams is proceeding on schedule. Drawdown, or draining of the reservoirs, was initiated at Iron Gate Dam on January 9, and on February 15 Klamath River Renewal Corporation announced that ini-tial drawdown is complete. That means the Klamath River is flowing freely through the “reservoir reach” more or less within its historic channel. It’s quite something to drive around this transformed landscape and wit-ness the river carving through the mud! For weeks now, RES (the restoration contractor) and crews from the Yurok Tribe have been seeding and planting in the reservoir foot-prints. The seeds are starting to germinate and will hopefully keep invasive plants at bay. (If you want to know more about this monumental restoration effort, here’s a link to a story I wrote for The Revelator about it.)

If you’ve been downstream of the dams lately, you’ve likely noticed the river is quite turbid (i.e., mucky). Dissolved oxygen dropped to near zero for several days following drawdown. (The stretch right below the dams has been most affected; major tributaries like the Shasta and Scott Rivers are helping restore oxygen levels further down-stream.) As was expected, thousands of mostly non-native fish that inhabited the reservoirs have died. Unfortunately, nearly a dozen deer got stuck in the thick mud shortly after drawdown of the Copco 1 reservoir and also died. Hopefully, these short-term negative impacts will be greatly outweighed in the long-term with healthier river conditions and the opening up of salmon habitat above the dams.
If you’re interested, you can access USGS river monitoring gauges online. For some, you can retrieve real-time and historical data on a number of metrics, including flow, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and suspended sediment.

Deconstruction of the dams is scheduled to begin in June. If all goes well, the structures will be completely gone by fall – just in time for the Chinook run!
And now, for some more good Klamath Basin news:

The Klamath Basin receives amazing Valentine’s Day gift

On February 14, Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced that $72 million in new federal funding has been earmarked for “critical ecosystem restoration projects and agricultural infrastructure modernization” in the Klamath Basin. Sen. Merkley helped secure $162 million over five years through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for restoring ecosystems and boosting drought resiliency in the Klamath Basin. This latest infusion marks the third year of funding; it follows $26 million provided in 2022 and $15 million in 2023.

In addition, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced a historic agreement with the Klamath Tribes, Yurok Tribe, Karuk Tribe, and Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) “that cements their commitment to work-ing together to drive long-term solutions to the Klamath Basin’s water challenges. This includes collective efforts to restore the region’s ecosystem and improve water supply and reliability for the Klamath Project.”
Following is a breakdown of the $72 million.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will dedicate a total of $64 million for work to restore the regional eco-system and repair local economies in the coming years:
$25 million for the Klamath Basin Co-Development Process: This funding will go toward the development of restoration projects in the Klamath Basin that will help resolve on-going water-related challenges.
$20 million for completion of Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery: This project will increase rearing capacity and help prevent extinction of two federally listed species found only in the Klamath Basin, the Lost River and shortnose suckers (C’waam and Koptu).
$6 million for Sprague River Collaborative Restoration (Phase 1): This project will provide instream and flood-plain restoration along 26 miles of headwater streams in the Sprague River Watershed, develop cost-level design plans and baseline monitoring for instream and floodplain restoration of the mainstem Sprague River, and develop a landowner incentive program to encourage landowner participation in restoration programs and retain economic viability for family farms and ranches.
$2 million for Upper Williamson River Restoration: Funding will be used for restoring the historical hydrology within the Klamath Marsh through the removal of TPC, Middle, and House bridges and restoration of roughened channels. Additionally, the Cholo Diversion will be demolished and replaced with a horizontal flat plate screen and headgate structure.
$1.46 million for Klamath Basin Fisheries Collaborative: Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) Tag Monitor-ing and Database Project: The PIT Tag coalition is a collaborative effort to develop a basin-wide fish tracking infra-structure to monitor the success of restoration efforts in the Klamath Basin.
$922,459 for Climate Change Resiliency Stream Restoration within Bootleg Fire Area: Funding will be used for stream habitat restoration within the Bootleg Fire Area.

Additionally, the USFWS will provide $4 million to support the 14,000-acre Agency-Barnes wetland restoration project at Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge; $1.8 million to support a feasibility analysis of modifications to water supply infrastructure in Klamath Drainage District for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and farms; and $250,000 to develop a conservation and restoration project database and interactive map.

The USFWS will also engage Klamath Basin conservation partners in the coming year to develop a conservation and restoration project database and interactive map. This tool will track and describe conservation work in the Klamath Basin for the public and help to coordinate restoration efforts among partners in the Basin. It will also house and provide access to important data sets that can help drive long-term restoration success and support science and research efforts.

With resources provided by President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the Bureau of Reclamation is also establishing a robust drought resilience program for basins experiencing long-term drought and the impacts of climate change – including throughout the Klamath Basin. In the coming months, Reclamation will announce significant additional funding throughout the region to facilitate multi-year planning and alignment of water supply and demand as well as to address critical infrastructure needs. Additionally, Reclamation is funding $2.9 million to the Klamath Tribes, Yurok Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe,Sounds and Modoc Nation for projects that restore water-sheds and revitalize water infrastructure.

Here’s a bit more about the new Memorandum of Understanding between Klamath Basin Tribes and the Klamath Water Users Association, taken from the February 14 press release:
A newly signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Klamath Tribes, Yurok Tribe, Karuk Tribe and KWUA commits the parties to working together to identify, recommend and support projects that advance shared Klamath Basin restoration goals, including improving water and irrigation stability and reliability; strengthening eco-system resilience; protecting fish populations; and advancing drought resilience.

The MOU also commits DOI to working across its bureaus, other federal departments and agencies, the states of Oregon and California, and non-governmental partners to help secure funding and approval for projects and actions that advance these shared goals, including new investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.

Additionally, the agreement formally recognizes the significant value of Indigenous Knowledge and commits the par-ties to incorporate it into its restoration efforts throughout the basin.