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Climate Change and Conservation in the Klamath River Basin

Recently, my family and I went on a road trip up the west coast. Throughout the trip, we spent time by the Klamath River in Oregon and California. There are many issues facing the Klamath River Basin, so I thought I would share some of them with you.

The Klamath River is incredibly important as it has huge salmon runs, it supplies water to people in the surrounding areas, and it has been the home and lifeblood of the many indigenous groups that have resided in the area for thousands of years. Sadly, this river is harmed by hydroelectric dams and is deteriorating at an astonishing rate. The river contains four dams, the oldest of which is over a century old. These dams have destroyed the salmon runs as these fish, along with the many other aquatic animals in the river, cannot travel up and down the river. The Klamath River salmon runs were once the third-largest in the nation, but they have fallen to just eight percent of their historic numbers. It has taken tons of activism and pressure, but if current plans go through, these dams will be torn down. This could make the river much healthier and could save the salmon run from extinction. Sadly, this is not the end of the river’s troubles. Some of the damage done by damming the river for a century will take a very long time to repair and there are many threats facing the river that are not related to the dams.

The water quality of the river is declining rapidly as toxic algal blooms have taken hold. From July to November, when the water is warmest, the Klamath fills with blue-green algae that turns the water bright green and makes it smell like rotting seaweed. People can get rashes from bathing in the river or become violently ill from drinking the water. This happens because people have drained the surrounding wetlands and turned them into farms, and they have allowed the fertilizer from these farms to flow into the river, throwing off the balance of the ecosystem. Climate change has also helped worsen the algal blooms, as rising temperatures are warming lakes and streams, helping spur the growth of cyanobacteria. While these algal blooms aren’t new, they have gotten substantially worse over the last 200 years, as major human intervention has thrown the natural systems out of whack.

The amount of water in the river is also very low because there are huge droughts in the area, so the water isn’t being replenished. Additionally, much of the farmland in the area grows water-intensive crops, meaning that the tons of water is being pulled out of the river and not returned. There have been many protests and tensions between farmers as there is simply not enough water to go around. This is worsened by the fact that many of these farms are family farms, meaning that they don’t have the resources to keep afloat.

With the Klamath being blockaded by hydroelectric dams and many of the surrounding ecosystems, like the wetlands and forests, being harmed by climate as well as other human activities, this river faces some huge threats. Luckily, activism here is working and there is hope on the horizon. Please read more about this in the links below and please join me for my next blog in two weeks.

Photo I took this summer of the mouth of the Klamath River.

Map of the Klamath River Basin


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