North Coast Rivers

Rivers remain relatively undeveloped along California’s North Coat. The Klamath, Trinity, Eel, Mad, Smith, and Mattole are the major watersheds that drain the sparsely populated North Coast region. These rivers flow to the Pacific Ocean and account for about 40 percent of the state’s total runoff. The Klamath River is California’s second greatest river in terms of average annual flow – nearly 13 million acre-feet.
The Smith River is one of the only undammed river systems in California. The entirety of the Smith River and portions of the Klamath, Trinity, Eel, Smith, Van Duzen, Salmon, and Scott rivers are protected from further dams and diversions under state and federal wild and scenic rivers legislation. Aside from providing local water supply, these rivers are highly valued for sportfishing, white-water rafting, other forms of river recreation, and for the important salmonid spawning and raring habitat they provide.

Following completion of Lewiston Dam in 1963, up to 90 percent of the Trinity River’s flow was diverted east into the Sacramento basin at Claire Engle Lake, part of the Central Valley Project. Consequently, Trinity River salmon and steelhead runs declined by about 90 percent. In 1981, the Secretary of the Interior ordered diversions reduced by 219,500 acre-feet, and in 1986, Congress authorized the Klamath and Trinity River Basins Fisheries Restoration Act, a 20-year federal and state effort to restore the watershed’s fishery. By early 1992, the Trinity River Hatchery had been modernized and habitat improvement projects were underway to restore native salmon populations. (Laypersons Guide to California Rivers and Streams, Water Education Foundation)

Current efforts to protect and restore North Coast rivers include:

1) Reallocating water rights previously used to support the region’s closed pulp mills to environmental uses (i.e. dedicated in-stream flows) versus allowing the water to be re-appropriated as a domestic water supply and potentially transported out of the County, and

2) Removal of four of the six dams on the Klamath River by 2024, opening up 400 river-miles of habitat to salmon, trout, and eels, for the first time in decades in what will be the largest dam removal project in the history of the United States.