Featured News, Siskiyou

Klamath River Native Species – Dead or Alive?

cover photo: Klamath River native species killed by KRRC’s sediment management. Photos courtesy Walt Moody

Dam removal comes with a BIG price when done wrong!

The big question that goes to the credibility of Mark Bransom and Klamath River Renewal Corporation (‘KRRC’) is this: 

Were native species in the Klamath River killed by the sediment management and water released from the Klamath Dams? 

During numerous recent public presentations, Mark Bransom categorically denied that native species in the Klamath River would be killed due to KRRC’s release of polluted sediments from Iron Gate Dam on January 23, 2024. 

And Bransom continued in the delusion and misrepresentations to the public that native species aquatic life was not killed after the January 23rd sediment discharge, even after being presented with the overwhelming evidence! The point here is KRRC and Bransom are misleading the public media and press.

It’s a material fact that the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (‘KRRC’) has on numerous occasions during the past 2-years, publicly presented its definitive plan for de-watering the lakes behind the Klamath River Dams over a period of about 2-months (aka: ‘Reservoir Drawdown’), prior to the removal of the dams themselves. 

A slow drawdown over a couple months would help minimize extreme sedimentation of the Klamath River and impacts on aquatic life-forms.

That plan was included in a slide in their powerpoint presentation that was presented to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors several times over the course of a couple years, as the definitive plan. The de-watering process as seen in KRRC’s slide below, shows the lakes being de-watered over the course of a few months. (see image below)

Instead of staying ‘on-plan’, KRRC went ‘off-plan’ and engaged in the radical process of de-watering the lakes over the course of just a few days!

Some argue it was the cheap and quick way to get rid of the unwanted polluted sediments that had concerned dam removal planners for decades by attempting to wash most of them into the Pacific Ocean.

On January 23, 2024, just a week before a United States Geological Services (‘USGS’) river sediment and water study was released, KRRC opened the bottom diversion tunnel of Iron Gate Dam and a torrent of water and about 5-million cubic yards of polluted sediment (78% clay) was spilled into the main-stem of the Klamath River.

Within a few days of KRRC’s Jan. 23rd sediment dump, billions of life-forms were killed. 

More native species aquatic life-forms, dead. Photos courtesy Walt Moody

A sampling imagery study along the Klamath River from below Iron Gate Dam and down the Klamath River show tens of thousands of native species fish, DEAD, including some endangered species. From these random small-area samplings, it can be reasonably estimated that millions of native fish were killed! 

Dead native fish documented include: Salmon, Steelhead, Sculpin, Lamprey, Eels, Bull Trout, Klamath River Crayfish, and Smelt are just some of the numerous species killed. 

More aquatic life-forms dead in the main-stem of the Klamath River. Photos courtesy Walt Moody

Additionally, to the native species fishes and other native organisms that were killed, we find dead reptiles and amphibians, also likely killed on the order of thousands. 

It was and remains the obligation and duty of KRRC to be aware that the sediments in the lake bottoms of Copco and Iron Gate Lakes were polluted and act in an ecologically responsible manner. 

KRRC should have known that their flawed (rushed and incomplete) management of the polluted sediments would in fact adversely impact all the aquatic life in the Klamath River below the dams. 

Instead of heeding the true mission of river restoration, and walking their own talk of restoring the Klamath River and its salmon run, Mark Bransom, speaking for KRRC incorrectly argued that the sediments were not polluted, and insisted that no native species aquatic life in the Klamath River below the dams would be killed as a result of their sediment release.  The undeniable empirical evidence shows that Mr. Bransom was completely wrong.

The actions of KRRC and it’s contractors have indeed created a ‘River of Death’ ! 

This arguably reckless action has also adversely impacted citizens who live on and around the Klamath River and the emptied lakes, now lined with polluted sediments, soon to be toxic clay dust during the daily diurnal summer winds that frequent the canyons of the now emptied lakes.

In addition to the lake bottom sediment being 78% clay (per Gethard Engineering Consulting – Seattle, WA), which by itself is considered a ‘pollutant’ by the EPA when contaminating rivers, the lake-bottom sediments contained various organic toxins (Dioxin, PCBs, DDT, etc.) and several heavy metals at varying levels of toxicity according to the published CDM Smith-Stillwater Study titled;  ‘Screening-Level Evaluation of Contaminants in Sediments fromThree Reservoirs and the Estuary of the Klamath River, 2009-2011′ (see attached). These pollutants are bio-accumulative, so even low doses over time add-up.It is the job of a CEO, in this case Mark Bransom, to honestly report when something is going wrong, and immediately propose course corrections. Plan or no plan, when the unexpected happens, effective adaptive management is the rule; aka ‘Plan B’, and if needed ‘Plan C’.
As it stands, and as we have learned the hard-way, these lake bottom sediments are deadly to all aquatic life-forms in the River. So it’s just insane to risk having any more of these sediments entering the Klamath River.
The Siskiyou County Agricultural Commissioner offered his expert testimony, stating that the seeding (plantings) of the massive amounts of remaining sediments will probably not stabilize the sediments from wind-erosion, let alone a torrent of water scouring the lakebed canyon during the floods that do occur. 
Having seen what 5-million yards of polluted clay (78%) sediment did, imagine what 2 or 3 times as much would do during a flood.  It’s just insane to continue going-along with the delusions that are being sold to the public and media by KRRC and its supporters. 

In the highest and best interest of restoring the Klamath River, we must now demand that the estimated 15-million cubic yards of polluted sediments remaining in the canyon lake bottoms be removed and safely relocated.

This must happen before remaining sediments continue eroding and leaching into the Klamath River during time of precipitation, becoming toxic airborne dust in summers, and adding to this disaster by eventually being dumped into the Klamath River in large quantities during floods.

California Governor Gavin Newsom must take control of this ongoing disaster, before it escalates to even greater proportions! 

Avery Theatre CDF&W CHSRA Copco Dunsmuir Dunsmuir Elementary Dunsmuir Wildcats Easter Egg Hunt Etna EtnaCa FERC Forest Service Irongate Iron Gate Junior High Rodeo KCOC klamath Klamath Dams Klamath National Forest klamath river Klamath River Dams KNF KRRC Main Street Homestead McCloud Montague Mount Shasta Mt Shasta obituary Rodeo Salmon Scott River Scott Valley Scott Valley Agriculture Water Alliance Siskiyou Siskiyou Art Museum Siskiyou County Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors Siskiyou District Attorney Office Siskiyou Golden Fair The Well USDA KNF weedca YPD Yreka


  1. William there were Sturgeon in Copco Lake as per CDFW. This was reported when CDFW did a fish survey of Copco Lake. They told us they were 6 to 8 feet in length. After the survey we could not kill chubs they had to be returned to the river. Has the Sturgeon bodies been seen yet?

  2. William Simpson,
    Why must we demand that the sediments be removed? Why not mycoremediation or phytoremediation? on another note your vitriol directed at the KRRC is misplaced. Warren Buffett was the one who declined to renew the operating permits-said it didn’t pencil out- blame him hell blame the federal government for requiring the dams be brought up to spec. Enviromentalism did not bring this down on us capitalism did

  3. Kristi Lawrence

    I agree with everything you have said.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *