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Drought Conditions Devastate Salmon Population In Klamath River

Salmon was once a common sight at the Klamath River.
Ingrid Taylar
Salmon was once a common sight at the Klamath River.

As California's extreme drought continues, low levels in the Klamath River have caused a catastrophic salmon kill.

According to Yurok tribe biologists, 70% of the salmon caught for testing died from a pathogen Ceratonova Shasta (C. Shasta). 97% of juvenile salmon captured on the Klamath River's Shasta and Scott River tributaries were infected with C. Shasta, and would die from the pathogen.

Yurok Fisherwoman and Attorney Amy Cordalis said the U.S. The Bureau of Reclamation’s refusal to release more water, combined with the already severe drought, could be catastrophic for the future of the salmon.

"The Klamath River was the third-largest salmon producing river in the entire West Coast. And it's estimated that, with the impacts of this year's fish kill, we're down to 1% to 3% of The historical size of the Klamath salmon runs," Cordalis said. "We're on a path towards extinction."

The Bureau of Reclamation announced in May that it would not be providing a flushing flow to the Klamath River that could wash away the pathogen. Instead, the bureau shut the Klamath Project's main "A" canal for the first time since the canal opened in 1907, depriving the tribes and agricultural irrigators in the river basin of additional water.

The salmon not only provide subsistence for the tribe, but in past years the tribe operated a commercial fishery, which helped supplement the income of many of its members. The tribe canceled its commercial fishery for a fifth year in a row this year to protect struggling fish stocks.

Cordalis said the development of the river over the past 150 years had gradually lowered the salmon population over time. The four dams built on the river in the early to mid-1900s had no salmon ladders to allow the fish to continue upriver, cutting off 450 miles of spawning habitat.

"What the Klamath project and the dams did was essentially completely change the Klamath Basin ecosystem," Cordalis said.

Last April, the Yurok tribe joined a coalition of other northwestern tribes, conservationists, and fishermen in signing an open letter requesting $250 million in aid from the Biden Administration to help the area recover from the disaster.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which runs the Klamath Project, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Alec Stutson grew up in Colorado and graduated from the University of Missouri with degrees in Radio Journalism, 20th/21st Century Literature, and a minor in Film Studies. He is a huge podcast junkie, as well as a movie nerd and musician.