850,000 Chinook Salmon Fry Released Into Fall Creek

On Tuesday February 27, 2024 a rumor started circulating. 

My phone rang and the voice at the other end informed me that “about a million salmon fry were released into Fall Creek”, which empties into the Klamath River.

I prefer facts over rumors, so I jumped into my truck and drove up to the shiny-new Fall Creek fish hatchery. When I arrived, at about 3:00 PM, three men where standing outside the new building nearest Fall Creek chatting among themselves. 

I approached the men and said, “I heard that there are salmon in Fall Creek”.  One of the men replied back, “isn’t that cool, salmon are in Fall Creek for the first time in 60-years”

Of course the worker was correct, salmon did make up to Fall Creek prior to the installation of Iron Gate Dam 60-years ago. But the debate as to passage and suitable habitat beyond Wards Canyon farther up river is still contested.

I asked if any of the men were with California Fish And Wildlife, and one of the men answered ‘yes’. That man, who later gave me his business card, was the Senior Environmental Scientist with the State of California Natural Resources Agency, Department of Fish and Wildlife. His name was Eric Jones.

Eric informed me that earlier in the day they did in fact release 850,000 salmon fry (about an inch long) into Fall Creek. So, my information source was just a bit off on the number. Still, 850,000 salmon fry is a lot. 

As I understood it, the fry released were Chinook salmon, and sometime during the next few months these minuscule fish will leave Fall Creek and enter the Klamath River.

The big question now is, what will the conditions in the Klamath River be like when these tiny fish enter the sediment laden Klamath River?  

With the collapse of the Klamath River ecosystem, the foundational food chain in the Klamath River has been devastated by the release of the toxic sediments from the lake bottoms of Copco and Iron Gate Lakes. And, given drought conditions, the water flows are likely to be low in the coming months compounding adverse conditions for any aquatic life, let alone tiny salmonids that are quite vulnerable to turbidity and pollutants from clay lake bottom sediments.

Everyone, including the fisheries scientists are guessing as to what might happen next in this grand environmentally and financially costly dam removal experiment! 

According to the study titled Assessment of Factors Limiting Klamath River Fall Chinook Salmon Production Potential Using Historical Flows and Temperatures by John M. Bartholow and James A. Henriksen, “Fall Chinook survival to age 3 returning to the Iron Gate hatchery in 1988 was given as approximately 1.75 percent.”

That 111-page study from 2006 makes no bones about the fact that there are numerous assumptions, river conditions and variabilities that impacted the model-predicted survival rates of fry, juveniles and adult salmon. 

Another problem with that study is that the model did not contain assumptions and conditions related to the massive and unprecedented toxic clay sediment release into the Klamath River by Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) and the resulting ecosystem collapse. Nor has the study included the impacts of the excessive heavy metals that have and continue to be disturbed into the Klamath River from the clay sediments in the now exposed lake bottoms. 

The argument made by KRRC and their contractor Resource Environmental Services (RES), that plantings in the polluted lake bottom sediments will mitigate ongoing erosion and leaching of the clay sediments and toxins therein, is highly questionable and flies in the face of studies on the erosion of clay sediments and leaching of heavy metals into watersheds and impacts on aquatic lifeforms. 

Moreover, the obfuscation of naturally occurring heavy metals that have been carried by the Klamath River into Copco and Iron Gate Lakes for many decades and concentrated into lake bottom sediments, by KRRC and RES also flies in the face of settled science and empirical methods for managing heavy metals using settling ponds. 

The following study abstract cites this important fact: 

Heavy Metal Contamination in the Surface Layer of Bottom Sediments in a Flow-Through Lake’ Heavy Metal Contamination in the Surface Layer of Bottom Sediments in a Flow-Through Lake: A Case Study of Lake Symsar in Northern Poland

Heavy Metal Contamination in the Surface Layer of Bottom Sediments in a …Angela Kuriata-PotasznikRiver-lake systems most often behave as hydrographic units, which undergo complex interactions, especially in th…

“River-lake systems most often behave as hydrographic units, which undergo complex interactions, especially in the contact zone. One such interaction pertains to the role of a river in the dispersal of trace elements carried into and out of a lake. In this study, we aimed to assess the impact of rivers on the accumulation of heavy metals in bottom sediments of natural lakes comprised in postglacial river-lake systems. The results showed that a river flowing through a lake is a key factor responsible for the input of the majority of available fraction of heavy metals (Zn, Mn, Cd and Ni) into the water body and for their accumulation along the flow of river water in the lake. The origin of other accumulated elements were the linear and point sources in catchments. In turn, the Pb content was associated with the location of roads in the direct catchment, while the sediment structure (especially size of fraction and density) could have affected the accumulation of Cr and Zn, which indicated correlations between these metals and fine fraction. Our results suggest that lakes act as filters and contribute to the self-purification of water that flows through them. As a result, the content of most metals in lake sediments showed a decrease by approx. 75% between the upstream (inflow) and downstream (outflow) sections. The increased content of two metals only, such as chromium and cadmium (higher by 2.0 and 2.5 times, respectively, after passing through the lake), was due to the correlation of the metals with fine sand. Both the content and distribution pattern of heavy metals in lake sediments are indicative of the natural response of aquatic ecosystems to environmental stressors, such as pollutant import with river water or climate change. The complex elements creating the water ecosystem of each lake can counteract stress by temporarily removing pollutants such as toxic metals form circulation and depositing them mostly around the delta.”

In order to increase the survivability of any future cohorts of salmon and steelhead, we must insist that KRRC and RES do what’s right, and not just what’s expedient, cheap and profitable. KRRC and it’s contractors must remove all polluted lake bottom sediments and relocate those polluted clay sediments to a safe location. 

cover photo courtesy USGS


  1. William J Beall

    I know there’s heavy emphasis on wild stock
    I think that every little bit helps including hatchery fish if rebuilding fish populations where there haven’t been any

    Especially 60 years without fish

  2. Paul Cook

    Nanobubbles could be used to treat the silt to decompose the organic silt matter. Pretreatment should always be done before dam removal.

  3. Df & W.. had more than adequate time to remove contaminated bottoms ,,instead.

    they went economic/time saving to appease dam opposers…now sediment spread will cost 3 to 4 times and take many years to heal…Everyone loses except for taxpayers again

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