Fifteen years after Earthjustice won a key court case, the state of California finalized strong pollution regulations to clean up the Klamath River. Under court order, the state released new rules that essentially limit pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and activities affecting water temperatures and dissolved oxygen. If properly implemented, the Klamath River will once again support more robust salmon runs that are important to tribes and local economies up and down the west coast.
The Klamath River was historically the third biggest salmon producing river on the west coast, but in recent years the river has been seriously impaired primarily from farm runoff near its headwaters and five dams blocking salmon migration. The farm pollution flows downstream, gets trapped behind the dams which generates massive toxic algae blooms, heats the water and decreases the amount of dissolved oxygen available for aquatic species.
"It’s been a long time coming to get these badly needed pollution limits on the Klamath River," said Earthjustice attorney George Torgun. "This development shows that with vision and persistence we can restore one of the west coast’s most important rivers."
The pollution rules are required under a part of the Clean Water Act that was rarely followed until private citizen groups brought a series of enforcement actions during the 1990s. The case involving impaired rivers in the North Coast region of California, including the Klamath River, was brought by Earthjustice attorney Joe Brecher back when Earthjustice was called the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. Earthjustice represented the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and a number of other conservation groups in the case.
PCFFA executive director Zeke Grader said, “Cleaning up the Klamath River will rebuild salmon runs which our coastal communities depend on for food, economy and recreation.”
The U.S. EPA has said it will adopt the new limits by the end of this year.
Plans are in the works to eventually remove four of the Klamath dams, which will be another great step in restoring that river’s salmon runs. In the meantime, the new pollution rules should go a long ways towards making the river more hospitable to salmon and the other native wildlife that life there.
The owner of the dams, an electric utility company called Pacificorp, opposes the new rules as does Siskiyou County.