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Scott River Chinook Crisis

Klamblog1 recently reported that the Scott River Chinook salmon are again delayed from ascending the lower Scott from the Klamath River because of low water flow. This major Klamath tributary to the west of Mt. Shasta and Weed, CA that flows most winters with thousands of cubic feet per second (cfs) from rain and snow from the Trinity and Marble mountains has been flowing at less than 10 cfs this summer and fall. The salmon simply cannot migrate up this large, steep river with such low flow, especially in dry years when there is no snowmelt after June. The salmon simply wait for rain at the mouth of the Scott. Rains often come by December, just in time for California’s last viable run of Coho salmon, but too late for the Chinook.

As usual the blame is on irrigators in Scott Valley who draw down the water table with heavy groundwater pumping and surface water diversions in the summer for hay and pastures. The State Board did restrict most surface diversions this summer, but with little snowpack there was little streamflow to restrict. Scott Valley often has high groundwater, but with little snowpack recharge, less flood irrigation, and heavy pumping, groundwater seepage and ag returns to the river have virtually ceased, leading to the low flows.

Surprisingly, there is a solution that ranchers are willing to do – pump groundwater into the river in the fall after the summer irrigation season. There is more than enough pumping capacity and groundwater available. Ranchers only want payment for the electricity – a reasonably modest cost. In years like this we are talking about 8 to 10 weeks of a nominal amount of pumping and groundwater storage with a high likelihood that the groundwater used would be replaced/recharged this coming winter and spring.

The concept and proposal have fallen on deaf ears, and the ranchers have circled their wagons much like the salmon in the video link below. As the political fight over water goes on, we should take every opportunity like this one to save the salmon from extinction.