Anyone Remember the 1964 Klamath River Flood?

cover photo: 1964 Flood – the iconic Klamath Bridge washed out in the flood
photo credit: Greg Rumney

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it…

If people on both sides of the Klamath Dams issue fail to learn from our recent experience, and older experiences, a catastrophic price will be paid.

There is no debate that the release of about 5-million metric yards of sediment from Iron Gate Dam on January 23, 2024 virtually killed all aquatic lifeforms in the Klamath River all the way to the coast.  

According to Klamath River Renewal Corporation’s CEO Mark Bransom, there was “17-20 million metric yards” of clay sediments in the lake bottoms, and Bransom claimed they released about 5-7 million metric yards of that total amount. That means that there is likely another 13-15 million metric yards of polluted clay sediments remaining in the lake bottoms.

We’ve all seen the force that a flood wields. Houses, bridges and boulders the size of cars being washed away in floods, like the Klamath River flood of 1964. 

Is anyone crazy or ignorant enough to think that some tiny plantings on the massive polluted lake bottom mud-flats will withstand the force of the Klamath River flood waters?  

Dam removal operations by Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) have caused disruptions of the lake bottom sediments. 

According to the 2009-2011 sediment analysis by CDM Smith and Stillwater Sciences, these sediments have concentrated and collected toxins and heavy metals for many decades. 

A small percentage (~5 of 20-million cubic yards) of these contaminated sediments were released into the Klamath River on January 23, 2024, which resulted in serious adverse impacts to the Klamath River, killing virtually all aquatic lifeforms and adversely impacting terrestrial wildlife. 

Regardless of any success with ‘planting of the sediments’ any future flood over the remaining 15-million metric yards of polluted and planted sediments in the lake bottoms, would repeat the ecological disaster seen in the weeks that followed the January 23, 2024 sediment release, only this time it will be worse!

Given the total amount of remaining polluted sediments is likely 3-times the volume of the Jan. 23rd release, and that floods typically deposit sediments in both the River and up high on the banks, the dislocation of the 15-million metric yards of polluted clay-mud during a flood would be yet another disaster on a new epic scale! 

Toxic clay sediments would end-up in the yards and fields of homes and ranches, which would then slowly leach their noxious contents into the water table.

Fort Ter-Waw, located at what is now the town of Klamath Glen, was destroyed by the flood in December 1861 and abandoned on June 10, 1862. Other significant floods on the Klamath River have occurred in 1926–1927, 1955, 1964, 1997, and 2005, in several cases changing the course of the river. ~Wiki

Such a flood event is guaranteed to occur based upon history and would devastate any restored fishery that might exist in the future, thereby wiping-out any and all progress and all the money spent towards a restoration of the River and it’s fishery.

Now, future erosion during heavy rains, or flooding, over the ~15-million metric yards of remaining sediments (even planted) will cause significant levels of sediments to be release into the Klamath River yet again, along with toxins and heavy metals. These ongoing small and large releases of toxins and heavy metals are incremental to the existing and concerning levels, thereby raising total contamination to levels of grave concern for the health, safety and welfare of citizens and aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. 

For these important reasons, the remaining sediments must be removed!

It is imperative that Siskiyou County take a leadership role in protecting our citizens and the Klamath River, which is vitally important to our citizens and our economy.

Reasonable Demands to be included in an emergency declaration :

1. Request that EPA immediately send field scientists to assess the toxicity of the remaining lake bed sediments, which can continue to kill the lifeforms in the river during winter erosion or during floods, and make the results of their investigation to the public; and,

2. Request for iImmediate financial aid for citizens living on or immediately around the lakes and the river below the dams who have been impacted by sediment or water quality issues. This includes wells that have gone dry or are now low producing, or irrigation water intakes impacted by sediments.

3. Request for immediate funding to citizens who have wells within 2,000 feet of the river banks below Iron Gate Dam to pay for immediate baseline testing for all listed toxins discovered in the 2009-2011 CDM Smith sediment/water sampling, and thereafter each 90-days for a period of two years, regardless of levels cited in the CDM Smith test. Many of those toxins are bio-accumulative, so low dosing over time can cause debilitating illness, and potentially death. 

4. Request for the removal of all remaining lake bottom sediments to prevent further erosion of toxins and heavy metals into the Klamath River. 


  1. After working on the Copco Project & J.C. Boyle Powerhouse for 25 years. I have good knowledge of what’s going to happen after the dams are removed. There will be NO Flood Control! When there was high run off we controlled the amount of flood water rise in the river. With the Dams gone there will be a Tsunami type wave coming down the river and it will take out everything in it’s path. And I hope to God I never see that happen!

  2. I really can’t think of anyone to complain to, the damage is only beginning. Anything now is too little too late. The voters of Siskiyou County were ignored along with the accurate report of Dr. Paul Houser, the Interior Dept Hydrologist who was fired from the dept of Interior due to his refusal to say what the Dept wanted. History was ignored, remember the movie Erin Brokovich, this was about the toxin chromuim 6, groundwater contamination under the town of Hinkley in Southern CA. Which according to the water test on river water below Iron Gate to Klamathon tested at 171 times the maximum allowed by EPA standards. So, apparently we are going to have Hinkley on steroids, difference being instead of a town, we will pollute the entire Klamath River ecosystem and some of the Pacific Ocean yet to be determined. In all probability most of the sludge will be distributed along the river on its way to the ocean, but some will get there. In the meantime the entire river gets more contaminated. Yesterday I saw a video taken around Jenny Creek where Iron Gate lake used to be of many industrial backhoes digging up more sludge and dumping it into the “new”river to be washed away. And the damage continues. Hauling this stuff away would be hundreds of thousands of semi dump truck loads along with the problem of where to haul it to and resulting road destruction. So now we are learning how this $500 million dollar experiment is going. The results are yet to be determined, possibly decades from now. Begins to look like $500 million in cost pales to the actual destruction cost to the entire river ecosystem and surrounding personal costs to residents along the river. To say nothing of the loss of 5 to 7 megawatts of clean constant electric production, some flood control, along with a source of water during fire season, and the recreation the lakes provided. Not to mention the wildlife that will die from drinking the contaminated river water along with possible livestock loss. And the main reason for all of this The SALMON PROBLEM, SOLVED!!!! There are no salmon left in the system, nothing left to save, even the frey recently released, all 850.000 of them. In regard to William Simpson’s comments on the 1964 flood I lived in Eureka at that time. The area around Orick to Rio dell and east to Blue Lake was a huge island, Klamath River bridge, Eel River bridge at Rio Dell gone. Highways 299 and 36 closed by slides and slipouts. The only way out was by air or sea. Almost all of the towns in the Eel River canyon gone, washed away. This was the thousand year flood mentioned by Mr. Russo in his prior comment. The first time I have seen the damage to the Hwy 101 bridge. That was as far north that we could go. It took around 3 weeks for the water to go down enough to get some “Baily Bridges placed across the Eel river by Ferndale to open a southbound route. It is absolutely foolish to think it can’t happen again.

  3. You know, nobody has brought up the subject of real estate loss. Value in all their comments.
    Our real estate has gone Downhill from this point. The value of our properties. Is dropping at a slow rate?Some of us a faster Rate
    . The reason for this decline in values is because of all the stench associated with taking out of Dam. And all of it’s contamination That will last for years to come.

  4. The western Oregon Dams need dredging behind them not blown up! The sea lions are the majority issue for the salmon not the Columbia river dams. The sea lions are almost a one to one cause of the Salmon decline below the Bonneville Dam. Federal complaint 3:24CV00755JR and injunction filed in federal court to stop the destruction of the iron gate dam on the Klamath river in Oregon. These documents show EV’s are crashing the grid!
    Defendants did not write anything in the case against the complaint or injunction within the time allowed. Therefor the federal judge will most likely sign an injunction tomorrow.

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