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Klamath Hydroelectric Project Frequently Asked Questions

What is the mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?  

Our mission is working with others, to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.


Why is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service involved in the Klamath Hydroelectric Project?  

The Federal Power Act requires that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) consult with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service during its consideration of licensing and re-licensing of dams in order to ensure the adequate protection, mitigation, and enhancement of fish and wildlife and their habitats. 


Has the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service consulted with FERC on the Klamath Project yet?

Yes, in reviewing the Klamath Project relicensing for FERC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carefully evaluated the license application that PacifiCorp submitted to FERC.  The Service and the Department of Interior concluded that fishways at each Project facility on the Klamath River are necessary so that anadromous fish can have access to historical habitat that lies upstream of the Iron Gate Dam.  Anadromous fish are currently not able to migrate further upstream than the Iron Gate Dam.

Map of historic distribution

Map of Klamath River Basin showing extent of present distribution of salmon and

steelhead (orange) and extent of historical distribution of salmon and steelhead (blue).


Does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have the authority to prescribe fish passage?   

Section 18 of the Federal Power Act provides the U. S. Department of the Interior and U. S. Department of Commerce authority to require fishways in new licenses where it can be demonstrated that fish populations would benefit from the provision of fish passage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the bureaus of the U. S. Department of the Interior.  The fishway prescriptions for the Klamath Hydroelectric Project were coordinated with the Department of Commerce and other Department of the Interior bureaus: the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).  

The Department of the Interior uses its Section 18 authority to prescribe fishways cautiously and judiciously.  The Department carefully evaluates the benefits of fishways to fish habitat and to commercial, recreational, and Tribal fisheries prior to issuance of any prescription. 

Why is the U. S. Department of the Interior prescribing fish passage for the Klamath Project?

Fish passage (ladders for upstream migration and screens for downstream migration) will enable Klamath River fish to have access to hundreds of miles of quality habitat.  These species have been blocked from reaching this habitat for almost a century.  Chinook salmon, steelhead trout (ocean-going rainbow trout), Pacific lamprey, and resident Klamath River rainbow trout will benefit from having fish passage.  These species are not listed under the Endangered Species Act.  Coho salmon are listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and fish passage will help to recover this species.   

The Department of the Interior established its vision for the Klamath River in 1991 when it adopted the “Long Range Plan for the Klamath River Basin Conservation Area Fishery Restoration Program” (LRP), completed by the Klamath River Basin Fisheries Task Force (see fact sheet for more information about the Task Force and the LRP).

What is the Long Range Plan? 

The Long Range Plan (LRP) calls for protection of salmon and steelhead habitat from harmful effects of water and power projects in the Klamath Basin (Objective 2.E, page 2-79 of LRP).  In a letter dated March 21, 2001, the Task Force stated that the relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project will “result in the successful restoration of anadromous salmonids to their historical range as well as improvements to habitat of the Klamath River below the Project” (USDI Klamath River Basin Fisheries Task Force 2001). 

 Aspects of LRP that pertain to Klamath Project relicensing included provisions to: 

  • Reevaluate the currently available spawning and rearing habitat located above Iron Gate Dam, where needed. (Section 2.E.1.A)
  • Identify and implement methods to rectify habitat problems identified in first bullet, including (1) access above Iron Gate and Copco Dams to the upper Klamath Basin; (2) Water quality above and below Iron Gate Dam; and (3) in-stream flow and habitat below Iron Gate Dam (Section 2.E.2.A-C)
  • Promote adequate fish protection requirements in the relicensing conditions for the Iron Gate Hydroelectric Project and other power projects by the FERC. (Section 2.E.3) 
  • Advocate inclusion and enforcement of effective conditions for salmonid habitat protection on small and large hydroelectric projects and other water storage projects. Section 2.E.4 )

How did the Department of Interior arrive at these fishway prescriptions?  

The fish passage prescriptions are based on the best biological and engineering information available.  Preliminary Fish Passage Prescriptions were developed over a period of several years by the biological and engineering staff of the Service, in consultation with the Applicant (PacifiCorp), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), affected Tribes (Klamath, Karuk, Hoopa Valley, and Yurok Tribes), the Klamath Intertribal Fish and Water Commission, and other entities that have participated in this relicensing proceeding.  

The Department's Preliminary Prescriptions were modified based upon additional consideration of the available evidence as well as equal consideration to the effects of the prescriptions and alternatives on energy supply, distribution, cost, and use; flood control; navigation; water supply; air quality; and the preservation of other aspects of environmental quality.  In modifying the Preliminary Prescriptions, the Department considered public and agency comments in response to the FERC’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement; the Administrative Law Judge’s decision and supporting record in the Klamath Project trial-type hearing under Section 18 of the Federal Power Act, as amended by the Energy Policy Act of 2005; and the Applicant's proposed alternative submitted pursuant to section 33 of the Federal Power Act.   The modified fishways prescribed by the Departments of Commerce and Interior are identical for the Klamath Hydroelectric Project.


Why did the Department of Interior prescribe volitional fishways?


The Department of Interior prescriptions require volitional fishways to achieve fish passage over each dam, both upstream and downstream.  Volitional means that fish will be migrating around a dam through an upstream fish ladder or downstream bypass system as opposed to being trapped and hauled around the dam or attempting to move through hydropower turbines where many would be killed.  Volitional fishways allow anadromous fish to migrate when they are physiologically ready and to imprint on the streams and river during their migration down river.  


How do we know Klamath River fish will benefit from having fish passage installed?  

Salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey would regain over 300 miles of habitat above Iron Gate Dam for spawning, incubation, and rearing if provided with volitional fishways.  Currently, without fish access, this habitat does not contribute to the production of salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey.  In addition to increased production, the return of anadromous fish to these areas would allow fish to use a more extensive and wider diversity of habitats than is currently available to them in the Klamath River system. This would include intermittent streams and thermal refugia, used at a variety of stages in their life cycle.  Environmental diversity such as this contributes to the ability of species to thrive in variable and challenging environments by maintaining their genetic variation.   

How do we know that salmon and steelhead migrated all the way to Upper Klamath Lake and beyond?  


There is a solid historical record that demonstrates salmon and steelhead migrated up the Klamath River through Upper Klamath Lake, and even further up into the lake’s tributaries.  Over 50 miles of habitat exists in the Project reach and more than 300 miles of habitat exists above Link River Dam (Huntington 2006.pdf).   These areas (see map above showing extent of present distribution of salmon and steelhead and extent of historical distribution of salmon and steelhead) are currently inaccessible to and unused by salmon, steelhead, or Pacific lamprey because the Klamath Hydroelectric Project dams block fish migration.


Map of UKL and tribs above Klamath hydro project

Map of Upper Klamath Lake and tributaries

above the Klamath Hydroelectric Project


How do we know that salmon were numerous above the dams?  

The historical record includes the following accounts:  

  • “My husband fished salmon in all the fishing spots at Sprague River... He particularly fished at the fishing holes where Spring Creek empties into Sprague River two miles north of Beatty... He speared salmon during the runs each year from 1901 until the runs stopped... He would take between 3-400 salmon a year.” Bertha Lotches, born 1889, member of the Klamath Tribes.  In:  Lane and Lane Associates 1981, p 58.
  • “The Indians obtained a large part of their livelihood from the salmon fish they caught…The fish were pretty well distributed to all Indian families.  At the Baking Powder Grade in the Sprague River, 20 men on average would fish daily throughout the summer months.  They would spear and take out of the river approximately 100 fish a day, averaging 30 pounds a fish.  I would say that approximately 3,000 pounds of salmon fish were taken out at Baking Powder Grade each day for 90 days.” Victor Nelson, member of the Klamath Tribes.  In:  Lane and Lane Associates 1981, p 58.
  • “In explaining the fishery methods used by the Klamath tribe, Spier wrote that fishing with nets was the primary method.  Spears were not used much because the dark water of the Williamson River and Klamath Lake, other than the Pelican Bay area.  Salmon were sometimes speared from river banks and from the rocks at Klamath Falls.  Hooks were used chiefly for large fish like salmon and “salmon trout.”  In:  Fortune et al. 1966, p 6. 
  • “The largest village of all, named Eulalona, on the banks of the Link River immediately below upper Klamath Lake, was the central point of the tribe and the scene of winter fishing grounds, unexcelled for salmon.In:   Good 1941, p 32.
  • Lobo’kstsoksi, [Klamath Tribal name for an Indian village] [is] on the bluff on the left bank of the Sprague River at the railroad bridge, with a few houses on the opposite side.  There is a dam for salmon here.  In:  Spier 1930, page 14.
  • The Takelma descended upon bezukse’was [Klamath Tribal name for the large Indian village on the Williamson River below the confluence with the Sprague River] in the middle Williamson valley at salmon fishing time.  In: Spier 1930, page 28
  • “I know from my own knowledge...The salmon taken out by Indian members of the Klamath Tribe of Indians provided approximately one-half of the food that all of the Klamath Indians used from 1898 to the time when the fish were stopped by the dam of the California Oregon Power Company in 1910.”  Delford Lang, member of the Klamath Tribes. In: Lane and Lane Associates 1981, p 58.  
  • “There were ten of us in the family and I supplied the salmon for the use of my family.  What salmon I caught I did not need my family would give to their friends.  I would take between 300 to 400 salmon out of the reservation streams each and every fall during the salmon runs….Sprague River is one of the fine spawning streams of the reservation.”  James Johnson, born 1887, member of the Klamath Tribes.  In:  Lane and Lane Associates 1981, p 60.
  • “The Indian name for the falls [at Klamath Falls] was ‘tiwishkeni’ which translated means ‘rush of falling waters place.’  Around this location enormous quantities of salmon, steel-head and mullet were taken each year by the Indians who dried them for their winter food supply.”  In: Klamath Echoes, 1967. Part 1, Number 4, p 16.

In addition to the printed record, the following photographs and newspaper article document the presence of salmon in the Klamath watershed above Iron Gate Dam. 


M. Baldwin photo provided by Klamath County Museum

Maud Baldwin photo provided by the Klamath County Museum

Postcard from 1910, source:  Klamath County Museum

Postcard from 1910.  This location is identical to the location of Moonshine Falls,

now inundated by J.C. Boyle reservoir.  Source: Klamath County Museum


Klamath Falls Evening Herald article, September 24, 1908. Source:  Klamath County Museum

Klamath Falls Evening Herald article from September 24, 1908. 

Source: Klamath County Museum


How do we know whether current habitat conditions will support the return of salmon to the Upper Basin given that they haven’t occupied those waters for nearly 100 years?  

Extensive habitat restoration work in the upper Klamath basin has been underway that will benefit these fish, as well as the federally-listed shortnose and Lost River suckers.  A study recently conducted by the U.S. Geological Service, Oregon State University, and the Service suggests that current conditions in Upper Klamath Lake would support the restoration of salmon (Maule et al. 2007).

  Other Resources: