The DFW salmon counting weirs on the Shasta and Scott Rivers were removed on December 31st. The preliminary counts are:

Scott River: 1505 Chinook and 334 Coho

Shasta River: 5867 Chinook and 61 Coho

These counts do not bode well for Coho salmon in these major Klamath River tributary basins. Salmon biologists tell us that a minimum of 500 spawners is needed to maintain the genetic strength of a population segment or, as we say in the fisheries world, a salmon stock. When there are fewer than 500 spawners, the genetic diversity of the stock narrows and that in turn makes the stock more susceptible to extinction/extirpation via random events.

The Scott River was once the preeminent Coho Salmon stronghold within the Klamath River Basin and it could be that stronghold now. In the Scott River Valley existing habitat for Coho salmon has been protected and enhanced. Yet inadequate stream flows and disease epidemics related to flow and water quality limit juvenile survival. As reflected in the DFW counts, Coho salmon remain in deep trouble in the Scott and basin-wide. They could be wiped out if we once again have a series of years in which most juvenile salmon die before they can reach the Pacific.

In the Scott River Basin, thousands of Chinook and Coho juveniles die every year when irrigators turn on their diversions during springtime in a manner that dewaters the streams below the diversions. Dewatering fish habitat by diversion is illegal under California law. That law however, Fish & Game Code 5937, 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 like the Farmer’s Ditch, which has a documented history of excessive diversion outside the legal irrigation season, is free to violate the conditions of its water right at will. The result is even longer periods when more of Scott River is dewatered. This will inevitably push Scott River Coho closer to extirpation/extinction.

Every year since 2014, I have petitioned the State Water Resources Control Board to end the widespread practice of irrigation, especially of cattle pastures, outside the legal irrigation season. So far, however, State Water Board staff have not taken effective action to end the illegal water use and the resulting degradation of Scott River stream ecosystems, including “take” of Coho and Chinook salmon.

The tribes and fishing groups that have sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to get more flows into the Klamath River have also not taken legal action to address the dewatering of Scott River and the resulting destruction of the Scott’s salmon stocks even as matters have become more dire with the end of watermaster service. The lack of effective action on behalf of Scott River Coho and Chinook salmon by those with the power to change the situation is, in my view, disgraceful.

Please urge the State Water Resources Control Board to take meaningful action to end the illegal use of water in the Scott River Basin. The main contact in this regard at the State Board is: Erik Ekdahl, Deputy Director, Division of Water Rights State Water Resources Control Board, Sacramento, CA 95814. His contact phone is (916) 341-5316 or email Erik.Ekdahl@waterboards.ca.gov.