JULY 2000

 

JULY-AUGUST 2000 FULL ISSUE

THE KLAMATH: CALIFORNIA’S BROKEN RIVER

By ELIZABETH GROSSMAN

The story of the Klamath River basin "is a story about watershed politics," says writer William Kittredge, who grew up on a ranch in southeastern Oregon. Over the last century, politics divided this river of greatly contrasting geography into two distinct parts: the upper and lower basins. In 1906, when the Bureau of Reclamation and local settlers began digging canals to divert water from the Klamath wetlands to grasslands, creating working farms, it seemed a miracle of progress. Since then the waters of the entire Klamath system have been devoted largely to agriculture. Now, nearly a century later, the heavy toll of upending nature is being felt.

The diversions caused serious ecological troubles, both for the National Wildlife Refuges of the upper basin and for the salmon and steclhead of the lower river.

 "It's been treated as two separate river systems for a long time," says Felice Pace, River Protection Coordinator for the Klamath Forest Alliance, reflecting on the perception and management of the Klamath River. "One of our objectives is to unite the system."

The second largest river in  California, the Klamath carries almost as much water as the Colorado. Along with the Columbia, Fraser and Pit Rivers, the Klamath is one of the four rivers that flow from east of the Cascades to the Pacific. Some of the Klamath River's headwaters rise in the new Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Some rise in the Marble Mountain, Siskiyou, Trinity Alps and Sky Lakes Wilderness areas. On the east side of the Cascade, the Klamath flows through volcanic escarpments rising over alkali lakes, and amongst juniper, ponderosa and mountain mahogany. It flows through wetlands and marshes in Oregon's high desert country, turning south and then west into the steep forested mountain  canyons of northern California.

Where the Klamath meets the ocean, giant redwoods grow.

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Paul Koberstein