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Contact EPA Pacific Southwest Water Division

Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Watershed Priorities

Klamath River Basin, California & Oregon

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The Klamath River Basin, which covers 10.5 million acres in southern Oregon and northern California, has been long renowned for its lakes, rivers, hunting and fishing opportunities and strong agricultural economy. The Basin is home to six federally-recognized tribes and several National Wildlife Refuges, Parks and Forests.

The Klamath Basin has been in the forefront of national attention due to contentious resource issues including water allocation, water quality, and threatened and endangered species. The Klamath River has been the third-largest producer of salmon on the West Coast, following closely behind the Sacramento and Columbia rivers. In 2002, a massive die-off of over 33,000 adult salmon on the Klamath River brought renewed attention to this area.

Photo of: The Klamath  River
Klamath River. Copyright (C) 2002-2005 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project, www.californiacoastline.org

The Klamath River, which starts in Oregon, travels for approximately 250 miles through California before flowing into the Pacific Ocean near Crescent City. The river is impounded by four dams - one for water delivery and three for hydroelectric generation, part of PacifiCorp's Klamath Hydroelectric Project. Major tributaries to the Klamath include the Shasta, Scott, Salmon and Trinity rivers.

Since 2002, the EPA Regions 9 and 10 have been working together with California and Oregon to coordinate environmental programs and projects in water quality, fisheries and watershed restoration. In 2004, the EPA's administrator signed the Klamath River Watershed Coordination Agreement memorializing a commitment that the state and federal agencies will work on an overall, basin-wide approach to address the environmental issues in the Klamath Basin. The governors of California and Oregon, and the Secretaries of Interior, Commerce and Agriculture also signed the agreement.

EPA Activities

Photo of:Dugout canoes on the Klamath River, Yurok Trive
Dugout canoes on the Klamath River, Yurok Tribe

Under this Watershed Agreement, EPA is working with state and federal entities, as well as other stakeholders, to coordinate overall basin-wide activities. Since the fish die-off in 2002, the EPA has provided technical assistance and funding to the local tribes to enhance protection measures for threatened and endangered fish species and has worked with the tribes to increase their involvement and expertise in water quality issues. Additionally, we continue to work with our state partners to carry out Clean Water Act programs in the Klamath basin.

Water Quality Improvement Plan (TMDLs or Total Maximum Daily Loads)

Several water bodies in the Klamath Basin - the Lost River, the Klamath Straits Drain, and the Klamath River from Link River to the Pacific Ocean - are impaired due to too much pollution. Oregon and California are developing water quality improvement plans, or Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for several parameters, including nutrients, pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia toxicity, and temperature. The EPA is working closely with the North Coast Regional Water Board to assist with TMDL development in northern California, and with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality on TMDL development in Oregon.

California TMDLs - California approves Klamath River TMDLs - On March 24th, 2010, the North Coast Regional Board approved the TMDLs for the Klamath River in California for Temperature, Dissolved Oxygen, Nutrients, and Microcystin Impairments. On September 7th, 2010, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) approved these TMDLS. The California Office of Administrative Law approved the amendment on December 7, 2010.  See the Regional Board's Klamath River TMDL documents. See the State Board's response to comments and resolution. Exiting EPA (disclaimer)

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On December 28, 2010, EPA approved California’s Klamath River TMDLs, in compliance with a consent decree requiring EPA approval by December 31, 2010. EPA also approved California’s revisions to its site-specific objective for dissolved oxygen for the Klamath River, which was part of the State’s TMDL package and Basin Plan Amendments.

In December 2008, EPA finalized the TMDLs for Nutrients and pH for the Lost River in California. View the Final Lost River TMDLs and supporting documents here.

Oregon TMDLs - Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) issued its Final TMDLs for the Upper Klamath and Lost Subbasins on December 21, 2010. View ODEQ's TMDL documents. Exiting EPA (disclaimer)

EPA is providing technical and financial support and is coordinating with tribes and federal resource agencies. For more information please view the attachments below and visit our partners respective Web sites.

Map of:
Klamath River Basin Project Map
Click for a larger version (PDF) (poster 35 x 34 inches, 1 pg, 3.3M)

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

PacifiCorp has submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a new 50-year license for the continued operation of its Klamath Hydroelectric Project. FERC's issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed relicensing Exiting EPA (disclaimer) of the project. Under NEPA, EPA is required to review major federal actions within the basin; EPA provided comments on FERC's Draft and Final EIS for relicensing of the project.

Coordination with Tribes

Five federally-recognized Indian Tribes reside within the Klamath Basin in California, and one resides in Oregon. California tribes include the Hoopa Valley, Karuk, Quartz Valley, Resighini and Yurok. The Klamath tribe resides in Oregon. The EPA coordinates quarterly meetings with the local Regional Water Board and tribes to help in the development of consistent, scientific water quality standards for north coast water bodies. EPA also provides grants to tribes for monitoring, assessment, nonpoint source and wetlands planning projects on tribal lands.

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Settlement Agreements

Representatives of more than 50 organizations, including many federal agencies (but not EPA), California and Oregon, Indian tribes, counties, irrigators and conservation and fishing groups have developed a comprehensive solution to resolve many of the complex issues of the Klamath Basin. In February 2010, many of the participants in the Klamath settlement process signed the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA); and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) was signed by PacifiCorp, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), and California and Oregon. Pursuant to settlement negotiations with PacifiCorp, DOI is analyzing whether the potential benefits of dam removal outweigh the potential costs, risks and adverse effects. The KHSA lays out the process for additional studies, environmental review, and a decision by the Secretary of the Interior (in 2012) regarding whether removal of four dams (JC Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2, and Iron Gate dams) owned by PacifiCorp: 1) will advance restoration of the salmonid fisheries of the Klamath Basin; and 2) is in the public interest, which includes (but is not limited to) consideration of potential impacts on affected local communities and tribes.

On September 22nd, 2011, DOI and the California Department of Fish and Game, released, for a 60-day public review, an environmental analysis known as a Draft Environmental Impact Statement / Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIS/EIR) evaluating the potential impacts of removing these four Klamath River dams. The federal government has also released related scientific and technical studies providing new and detailed information about the environmental and economic impacts of removing four dams – fulfilling a major condition of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA).

For more information on this process, and to obtain copies of the DEIS/DEIR and other documents, visit Klamath Basin Water Issue.

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Blue-Green Algae

Since 2005, monitoring in portions of the Klamath River watershed has documented prolonged blue-green algae blooms during the summer seasons. These blooms have occurred in Copco and Iron Gate Reservoirs, the two lowermost reservoirs of PacifiCorp's Klamath Hydropower Project, along the Klamath River. In response to the sustained blooms and high toxin levels, EPA joined other local, tribal, state and federal agencies in warning residents and recreational users of the affected reaches of the river and/or reservoirs to use caution when near such blooms.

Blue-green algae monitoring is conducted to track potential risk to public health and to establish baseline conditions for cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins. In the Klamath River and reservoirs, the focus is on  Microcystis aeruginosa cell counts and microcystin toxin levels. Monitoring data are evaluated using California’s Draft Voluntary Statewide Guidance for Blue-Green Algae in Recreational Water Bodies (July 2010) The most recent blue-green algae monitoring data are available at the BGA Tracker page at the Klamath Basin Monitoring Program website.

In November 2005, EPA and the California State Water Resources Control Board sponsored an informational workshop on blue-green algae (BGA), also referred to as cyanobacteria. The workshop provided an opportunity to learn more about the bloom that occurred in the Klamath Basin, to hear from national and Oregon experts on cyanobacteria, and to learn more about BGA issues elsewhere in California. The California State Water Resources Control Board Web site provides more information about the workshop.

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More Information on Cyanobacteria

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EPA Contact

Gail Louis (Louis.Gail@epa.gov)
(415) 972-3467

Sue Keydel (Keydel.Susan@epa.gov)
(415) 972-3106

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