Klamath Salmon in Peril:  State Water Board Poised to Curtail Irrigation in the Shasta and Scott Basins 

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By Felice Pace

The Shasta and Scott Watersheds once produced the largest  number of salmon in the entire Klamath River Basin. The Shasta was particularly fine for Spring Chinook Salmon and the small streams and beaver dams of the Scott Valley were heaven for Coho Salmon. But since the onslaught of groundwater extraction for irrigation in the late 1970s, streamflow in the two watersheds has plummeted and salmon have been denied access to prime spawning locations. As a result, production of young salmon has  dropped precipitously.  

Since the onslaught of groundwater extraction in the late 70s, Scott River has been dewatered almost every year. Photo submitted by Felice Pace

Now, after years of unaddressed complaints about irrigation-induced stream dewatering, the State Water Resources Control Board is finally curtailing stream diversions and groundwater pumping in the two watersheds. Irrigation curtailment is necessary in order to secure the minimum flows which California Department of Fish & Wildlife biologists say are needed to get salmon access to their spawning grounds.  

The State Water Board approved the emergency regulations on August 17. Irrigation curtailment orders were mailed to surface and groundwater irrigators in late August, just in time for annual Fall Chinook and Coho salmon migration and spawning.  

The mouth of Shakleford Creek on October 29, 2018. Salmon are routinely denied access to key spawning grounds in Shakleford and other Scott River tributaries. Photo by Felice Pace.

Livestock operators will still be able to divert water for their livestock, but the amount diverted will be limited and should forestall the common practice of continuing irrigation outside of the irrigation season using stockwatering rights. Groundwater irrigation will also continue but at a reduced level. Domestic wells, which supply homes and non-agricultural businesses, are not affected by the regulations.  

 

 

This welcome action is believed to be the first time that groundwater extraction for irrigation in California has been curtailed within entire watersheds.  

One of several diversions from Shakleford Creek in Scott Valley running full on October 29, 2018 even as salmon were denied access to the Creek’s prime spawning grounds. Photo by Felice Pace.

The North Group is among the entities that have been filing complaints for years about excessive irrigation and stream dewatering in the Scott River watershed. The Karuk Tribe has also complained and has published numerous scientific reports on how water management in the Shasta and Scott Basins impacts salmon. You can access and read those reports at karuk.us/index.php/departments/natural-resources  

Learn more about what the Water Board is doing to better manage water in the Shasta and Scott Basins at waterboards.ca.gov/drought/scott_shasta_rivers/

The State Water Board recently published a list of those stream  diverters who have not reported their annual water use as  required by state law. You can access the list at ​​waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/enforcement/docs/sb88_deficiencies.xlsx 

The deadbeat irrigators are listed by county. Perhaps we should  publish their names in local media and on local websites.  

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Swimming, Hiking & Tall Trees: North Group Sponsors Lost Coast Campers

By Sue Leskiw 

This summer, North Group sponsored three campers — a 10-year old girl from Arcata (Camper 1), a 10-year-old boy from Rio Dell  (Camper 2), and a 9-year-old boy from Arcata (Camper 3) — to  attend a week-long session at Lost Coast Camp near Petrolia.  

This is the fourth year that campers sponsored through donations to the Lucille Vinyard/Susie van Kirk Environmental  Education Fund have gone to overnight camp at this venue in the Mattole Valley. The facility’s mission is to “provide youth with a dynamic summer camp experience, which promotes building self esteem and positive friendships, individual expression, and  fostering an appreciation for the natural world.” 

In exchange for their tuition, the campers agreed to submit an  essay to North Group about their experience. Below are excerpts: 

Camper 1: We went swimming in a deep river every day, which was just the right temperature to go in the water. We sang very silly songs around the campfire. The cabin walls were made of canvas and it was freezing cold in the mornings. Because of COVID, we couldn’t do an overnight backpacking trip, but we slept outside one night and saw tons of stars — including two  shooting stars — and about a thousand satellites. The challenge course was very fun. On Ranch Day, we went to a farm, where  we rode in the back of Farmer John’s truck and threw out hay for the cows. We also got to hold oats in our hands and feed the llama. He had giant dreadlocks everywhere, except on his chest, and very giant teeth. He kicks if you try to pet him, but at least he doesn’t spit! I appreciate North Group for giving scholarships to Lost Coast Camp.” 

Camper 2: “The first day, we played a cabin-vs-cabin capture the flag game. Then, we caught crickets and thought of a way to prank the girls: put the insects in their biffy (bathroom in forest for you). We snacked on watermelon, then played with balls and Ninja-type games. After a spaghetti dinner, we went to campfire and sang. On Day 2, we went to the beach and built a huge log house/fort that I could stand up in and it was windproof. I gave a medallion talk for a necklace that represented family, friends, and self-improvement. Then, we went to the river and had our swim test. On the third day, we did all the same things as in Day 1 and 2 because everybody really liked the activities. I lost a  tooth and we slept under the stars. On Day 4, we pranked the girls with the crickets and went to Mill Creek and Josie’s farm. On the last day, we went on a tractor ride and saw a puppet show that was really funny and cool. The instructors got attacked by a gorilla. It was a very fun trip.” 

Camper 3: “I had a great time at camp. The day that stuck out to  me most was the next-to-last day, when I gave my medallion talk. I got a bear medallion, which represents self, family, and fitness.  This helped me understand myself better and strengthened my relationships. There is a lot to do at Lost Coast Camp, like  swimming, canoeing, hiking, and obstacle courses. There’s a ton to see, like tall trees, the barn, and the lake. It’s very peaceful  there, with a lot of birds and some dogs. I made a lot of friends. I  noticed that the night is warmer than the morning. They fed us oatmeal and cereal in the morning, sandwiches and apples at noon, and Sloppy Joes for dinner. After dinner, we had campfire, where we did sing-along and repeat-after-me songs. I hope you  enjoyed my letter about camp. Thank you!”