Tribes, Conservation Groups and Irrigators Collaborate on River Restoration, Water Efficiency Projects
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently provided $17.5 million for the collaborative planning and implementation of three emergency projects that aim to restore critical salmon habitat, improve water management and make the Klamath Basin more resilient to climate change.
“I would like to thank California Governor Gavin Newsom and Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham for supporting our efforts to rebuild salmon runs on the Klamath River and its tributaries,” said Yurok Vice Chairman Frankie Myers. “I also want to acknowledge the diverse group of stakeholders working on these projects. Together, we are carving out a new path toward restoration in the Klamath Basin.”
The $9 million McKinney Post Fire – Emergency Restoration Project, a collaboration between the Yurok Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Watershed Research and Training Center and the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, will restore fish habitat and remove sediment in multiple tributaries impacted by debris flows from the fire. The emergency funding will support large-scale watershed rehabilitation and help prevent the future degradation of the aquatic environment in the main stem of the Klamath River.
The $7 million Scott River Tailings Reach Watershed Restoration Project will restore a severely degraded part of the stream corridor and increase the efficiency of a dated water delivery system belonging to the Farmers Ditch Company. Brought together by the devastating impact of the extended drought, an unconventional coalition of stakeholders, including the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, CalTrout, Scott River Water Trust, Farmers Ditch Company, and other partners, will be working cooperatively on the project. The Scott is the most productive coho salmon stream in the Klamath Basin and all of California.
“The fate of our salmon and our community is intertwined with our upriver neighbors. We can either expend our energy fighting and achieve little to nothing, or we can find common ground, like we have here, and dramatically enhance the health of the Scott River,” Myers said. “All of the partners on this project want to see large numbers of salmon return to the Scott.”
“I’m thrilled that this project was awarded funding by CDFW and will give CalTrout the opportunity to work with and bring together so many people in the Scott Valley,” added CalTrout Mt. Shasta/Klamath Regional Director Damon Goodman. “We all depend and rely on water – including our fish – and my team is excited to get to work to create a future where we all have the water we need. This could be a real win-win for fish, farms, and some of California’s Tribal communities.”
The third project, administered by the Karuk Tribe and Yurok Tribe, will remove a longstanding barrier to fish passage on a tributary of the Shasta River within a California Department of Fish and Wildlife-owned property. A portion of the $1.5 million will be invested in restoration plans for Little Springs Creek and Big Springs Creek. The Shasta is the Lower Klamath River’s second largest salmon producer; only the Trinity River produces more. In large part, salmon and steelhead populations on the Scott, Shasta and throughout the Klamath have sharply declined in recent years as a result of habitat loss, coupled with water quality/quantity issues and climate change.
Earlier this month, fisheries managers closed all salmon fishing in California to protect struggling fish runs on the Klamath and Sacramento Rivers. Projects like these and others are desperately needed to rebuild fish stocks in the Klamath Basin. There is no doubt that increasing numbers of juvenile salmon will take advantage of the cold water in the Shasta River after the four Klamath dams come down in 2024.
1. McKinney Post Fire – Emergency Restoration Project
In early August of 2022, a fire-induced thunderstorm spurred a series of landslides, which discharged a massive quantity of mud into the Klamath. Shortly thereafter, more than 10,000 native fish died from asphyxiation due to low dissolved oxygen in the river. The bare fire scar threatens to release even more silt into the Klamath, via the following tributaries: Humbug, Vesa, Little Humbug, Barkhouse and McKinney. Initiated by the Yurok Tribe and its partners, and currently in the planning phase, the McKinney Post Fire – Emergency Restoration Project will improve the environmental conditions within these creeks and prevent continued erosion and sedimentation from compromising water quality on the Klamath. The Yurok Fisheries Department and Yurok Tribe Construction Corporation, in collaboration with the Karuk Tribe, Watershed Research and Training Center, and Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, will jointly plan and implement the project.
2. Scott River Tailings Reach Watershed Restoration Project
A collaborative effort that includes the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe, CalTrout, Scott River Water Trust, Farmers Ditch Company and other partners, the Scott River Tailings Reach Watershed Restoration Project will complement a CalTrout-planned initiative to fix the Farmers Ditch Company’s antiquated water delivery system and increase flows for salmon and steelhead. The company serves 1,028 acres of irrigated agriculture by way of a more than 100-year-old, 11-mile-long earthen canal. The ditch traverses a section of the Scott that is lined with tall piles of historic mine tailings. In the mid-1900s, a steam-powered mining dredge overturned the alluvial architecture of 4.25 miles of riverbed in search of gold near Callahan. Prior to the mining operation, the streambed was comprised of layers of sediment with the lightest, least porous material on top and there was ample water year-round. Now, Scott River flows go subsurface in the summer when the stream should serve as a nursery for baby salmon. Even during the rainy months, the river segment is unnaturally shallow and the riverbank is practically denuded of vegetation because native plants cannot take root in the rock piles left by the mining machine. The Scott River Tailings Reach Watershed Restoration Project will restore ecological function to a portion of the dredged section focusing on the stream’s confluence with Sugar Creek. This location was selected because it presents the best potential habitat for salmon and steelhead. Altered by the mining operation, the unnaturally steep creek mouth prevents fish from using the stream for many months out of the year. The project will resolve this issue by decreasing the angle of the creek mouth and turning back into a natural state. The project will also likely involve the restoration of the river’s former floodplain, the creation of side channels and the addition of large wood. These features will increase channel complexity, ground water storage and water quality within the restored reach. The Yurok Fisheries Department, Yurok Tribe Construction Corporation, along with the Karuk Tribe and CalTrout, will collaboratively plan and complete the project. This project will also include significant outreach to other restoration groups and nearby landowners.
3. Big Springs Ranch Habitat Improvement Project
The Shasta River is fed by glacial runoff and hundreds of springs that extend from Mount Shasta to the valley floor. The Little/Big Springs area at Big Springs Ranch is a crucial salmon refuge. For the Big Springs Ranch Habitat Improvement Project, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes will remove a barrier that blocks salmon and steelhead from entering Little Springs Lake in the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Big Springs Ranch Wildlife Area. Once completed, salmon and steelhead will have access to cold, clean water in the lake.
The three awards are part of the $100 million in emergency funding California Governor Gavin Newsom made available for the protection of salmon against drought and climate change. The funding is also consistent with California’s 30x30, Nature-Based Solutions and Cutting Green Tape initiatives.
The Yurok Tribe Construction Corporation is owned and operated by the Yurok Tribe. Informed by western science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge, the tribally owned business holistically converts severely degraded aquatic ecosystems into highly productive habitat for salmon as well as many other native fish and wildlife species. The Yurok Fisheries Department regularly plans, designs and monitors Yurok Tribe Construction Corporation projects.
Caption – Daniel McQuillen, a Yurok citizen, is a heavy equipment operator for the Yurok Tribe Construction Corporation, which implements river restoration projects throughout California.