The 2019 Scott and Shasta River Salmon Runs

Felice Pace, Water Chair

Last issue, I reported on irrigation ditches being run full and pastures being irrigated in fall, when irrigation should have ended. These unlawful practices prevented Chinook salmon from reaching spawning grounds in and above the Scott River Valley. In spite of protests, the State Water Resources Control Board has failed to take any meaningful actions to end illegal water use in the Scott River Basin.

The rains have finally come in sufficient quantity to open creeks, and while this happened too late to aid Chinook salmon, they have allowed Coho to access key spawning grounds in the upper Scott River basin where years of effort and millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have been invested in protecting and extending Coho spawning habitat.

Coho being able to make it to habitat that has been protected and enhanced for their use is good news. But bad news also came this fall in reports from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife on how many adult Chinook and Coho salmon passed counting weirs located low on the Scott and Shasta rivers.

Preliminary Counts:

  • Scott River: 1505 Chinook and 334 Coho
  • Shasta River: 5867 Chinook and 61 Coho

This does not bode well for Coho salmon in these tributaries of the Klamath River basin. According to salmon biologists, a minimum of 500 spawners are needed to maintain the genetic strength of a population segment. When there are fewer than 500 spawners, the genetic diversity of the stock narrows, making it more susceptible to extinction/extirpation.
The Scott River was once the preeminent Coho Salmon stronghold within the Klamath River Basin and it could be that stronghold now. Yet inadequate stream flows and disease epidemics related to flow and poor water quality limit juvenile survival. As reflected in DFW’s spawner counts, Coho salmon remain in deep trouble in the Scott and Shasta Rivers and basin-wide.

In the Scott River Basin, thousands of Chinook and Coho juveniles die every year when irrigators turn on stream diversions during springtime. Dewatering fish habitat by diversion is illegal under California law. That law, Fish & Game Code 5937, however, is intentionally not enforced.

To make matters worse, the Siskiyou County Superior Court recently irresponsibly granted a petition from Scott River Irrigators to end watermaster service. As a result, irrigation districts with documented histories of excessive diversion, are free to violate the conditions of their water right at will.

The lack of effective action on behalf of Scott River Coho and Chinook salmon is, in my view, disgraceful and shortsighted. Too many of those who are paid to protect Klamath River Basin salmon are preoccupied with dam removal; too little attention is being given to Shasta and Scott River salmon.

Despite years of complaints, the State Water Resources Board has not taken action to end illegal and excessive use of water for irrigation. Please contact the State Board (contact info below) and urge them to take effective action.

Erik Ekdahl, Deputy Director
Division of Water Rights
State Water Resources Control Board
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 341-5316 | Erik.Ekdahl@waterboards.ca.gov