The Official Blog of the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC)


Where We Stand: Underwater or Out of Water?

Posted by admin on March 22, 2015

by Luna LatimerKlamath River 1-12-06.jpg

After another dry January, I felt giddy as the Klamath River started rising in February. I compared stories with friends about which house-sized rocks were quickly going underwater. I feel this excitement was warranted because when all was said and done, the flows were three times higher than the highest flows last year (which were dismal.)64 Flood Orleans Bridge 2.jpg

What Watermarks Can Tell Us

I decided to do some comparison between this year and the 1964 flood that was 50 years ago, using US Geological Survey flow gauge data from the historical record. Here is what I found: The flows in Orleans on February 7, 2015 – the ones that made me giddy – were one quarter of the 1964 flows. I’ve been wanting to have a 50th Anniversary party for the 1964 flood. The lack of any type of flooding cooled my enthusiasm. Nonetheless, we made extra copies of a locally-produced 1964 Klamath Flood video and they are available in the Mid Klamath Watershed Council office in Orleans and on the MKWC YouTube page.

The 1964 footage is from Happy Camp and made available from Paula McCarthy. The video is shaky, but there are some real gems. Less than two minutes into the video a house washes downstream near Indian Creek. There is also about 30 seconds of archival footage of the greater North Coast from Caltrans. After the 1964 footage, Jock Sturges films the 1997 flood on the Salmon River. Will Harling and Charles Wickman provide footage of ishi Pishi Road and Camp Creek from the 1997 flood. There are also shots of Ishi Pishi Falls, the Salmon River confluence and Wooley Creek from Shawn Borque during the 2006 flood.  Many thanks to the Klamath Salmon Media Collaborative for producing the video. 

Our Unsure Flood Future

While the video of the '64 flood is great to have, what I really wish I had is a time-lapse photo of everything that happened after the flood. Log jams were cleared, houses were re-built, and people sured up against future floods.

This suring-up has had lasting impacts to the fishery in places like Seiad Creek where people have attempted to tame the unwieldy creek channel. MKWC will be working with the private landowners, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Karuk Tribe, and others to re-configure the channel that was created with bulldozers in the wake of the '64 flood, and subsequent floods in 1997 and 2006.

Putting It In Perspective

It is also notable what didn't change after the flood. Some creeks permanently left their original channel (like Bluff Creek). The 1964 flood is considered a 100-year flood. There is about a one percent chance of a flood like that happening in any given year.  While I think that the 1964 flood is exceptional, by all accounts the "Great flood of 1862" was much larger. The 1862 flood is considered a 1,000-year flood. If you haven't had enough of flood videos yet, check out the ARkStorm Movie that the U.S. Geological Survey put together. It is about the 1862 flood and another future "ARkStorm" (a funny acronym for Atmospheric River 1000-year (k) storm). 1964 Flood - Outpost Shows Height of High Water Can Relate to PB.jpg

Shown at left, a dip in the highway between the two stores in Orleans (one of which is now the Panamnik Building owned and operated as a community center by MKWC) went underwater in the 1964 flood. This picture helps us understand the reach of floods in our area and envision what a future flood could mean.

Luna Latimer is a Director of Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC). Her keen observations and analysis in the field, the office and the region help us move in a good direction in our small, rural communities.

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Restoration March Madness: Join Us!

Posted by admin on March 6, 2015

"This place used to have a highway running through it, and the school used to be right over there," said Toz Soto, lead Karuk Tribe biologist. He gestured across the flat at Ti Creek, a tributary that feeds into the Middle Klamath River.  "In nature, things are dynamic, they're always changing."

Fourteen JunctIMG_7824.JPGion School Elementary students, grades 5-8 squinted back at him, trying to envision how this place looked before the 1964 flood radically rearranged the landscape here. In small groups, the students visited five stations to learn about watershed threats such as erosion, noxious weeds, loss of forest diversity and water shortages. 

IMG_7869.JPGA walk through a wetland invited students to think about where water comes from, where it goes, and how watercourses shift over time, forcing humans to shift their management strategies to adapt. A lesson in how to pull scotch broom to make more room for native plants on the riverbar engaged students in a physical tussle with roots in the sand, leveraging the invaders out triumphantly with their strong little bodies. Several slices - conveniently called cookies in forester lingo - from a 120-year-old IMG_0488.JPGDouglas fir log offered a window into tree ring science, with expertise from two plant ecologists. Another group examined soil samples, while participants were asked to think through where rocks and dirt come from and where they go. And one group worked to measure a cubic foot box, calculate its contents, and fill it with water, leading to a clearer understanding of what we mean when we talk about a cubic foot per second of flow. IMG_7947.JPG

The field trip kicked off a flurry of springtime events MKWC is hosting in March:

Monday, March 9 - Attend a public presentation by MKWC Director Will Harling on watershed restoration at the Panamnik Building in Orleans from 5:30 - 7 p.m. The presentation is free. So is the pizza and salad. 

Wednesday, March 11 - Hear from MKWC Director Will Harling about what we're up to on the ground to restore the watershed when he presents at the Klamath Siskiyou Art Center in Happy Camp 5:30-7 p.m. More free pizza and salad for attendees. IMG_7994.JPG

Friday, March 13 - This is your opportunity to hop on a raft through the Orleans gorge and help us improve salmon habitat and remove invasive plant species from river bars along the way. Free lunch provided! Please RSVP soon. Limited spots available. Contact Jillienne Bishop to reserve a spot on a raft: or (530)627-3202

March 20 - Restoration Friday - Volunteer to pull weeds at Tishanik. For more information contact Tanya Chapple at or call MKWC (530) 627-3202.

March 27 - Restoration Friday - Volunteer to pull weeds at Dolan's Bar. For more information contact Tanya Chapple  at or call MKWC (530) 627-3202.

Be a part of the Klamath Restoration Madness of March! We're all stewards here. 

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How To Ditch A Century of Fire Suppression

Posted by admin on February 27, 2015

Rainbow Night Plume.jpg


by Will Harling

Last August 4, a handful of local firefighters were gathered at the Pigeon Shoot, a rickety wooden platform built atop a rock outcrop on a knife edge ridge just east of the Rainbow Mine, the first private property to be threatened by the White’s Fire. Located in the headwaters of the North Fork Salmon River in the east side of the Middle Klamath River watershed, this fire spread rapidly through forests where fires had been effectively excluded since fire suppression was invented over a century before. Standing at the Pigeon Shoot, it was easy to see the gravity of the situation. Fire was slopping over the nearest ridges on all sides, and flames whipped up by pre-frontal winds of a crackling thunderstorm reached 400 feet into the sky as they vaporized a fir plantation just across Music Creek. It was a living version of Tolkien’s Mordor. In this moment I saw the gravity of the larger situation: over half of the Western Klamath Mountains have not seen fire in a century and we are seeing the worst drought cycle on record.

Rainbow Mine had been constructed hastily in the early part of the 20th century by miners who were mining investors from the Bay Area more than anything else. Legend has it they got the money to construct the 11 Sears Roebuck kit houses on the 100+ acre property by taking what gold they had found, packing it into the barrel of a shotgun and blasting it into a tunnel wall for a photo shoot. It was one of the most indefensible properties I had ever seen, with houses built out over the edge of steep slopes where firebrands would funnel under the house. Others were built up against the hillside where boulders and rolling chunks of debris coming off the steep hillside above would inevitably come if the fire passed through.

Herculean efforts by professional and local firefighters and over $100,000 in retardant drops saved all but two of the structures. Past fuel reduction and controlled burning downslope along the steep, one-way access road allowed firefighters to stay and defend. We won this battle against steep odds, but looking at the intensity of last summer’s fires, the homes that were lost and the salmon streams that are set to unravel over the coming decades, it is clear we are losing the war. Nearly $200 million dollars has been spent already on suppression and repair of the 2014 Klamath wildfires. This feels like a punch in the gut when I think back to our last school board meeting where we discussed how to cover basic facilities repairs like leaking roofs with an ever shrinking budget. Obviously, the answer is not to let places like the Rainbow Mine burn or stop suppressing all wildfires. A recent plan covering 1.2 million acres of the Western Klamath Mountains that emerged from the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership demonstrates how we can greatly reduce costs by up to 90% over the coming decades, better protect homes, and begin to restore the fire resilient forests of a century ago.

The key is getting controlled fire back onto the landscape at much larger scales by constructing strategic fuelbreaks along roads and ridges through manual and mechanical fuels treatments to safely contain these burns. This strategy uses some of the same tactics of firefighting, but we can choose cooler times of year to burn and create local jobs and revenue through constructing more effective fuelbreaks. Once fuelbreaks have been established around communities, allowing wildfires to burn in the backcountry like they have forever is something we can embrace again. The safe use of controlled burning was successfully modelled during the Fall of 2013 and 2014 during the Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX). Plans for a larger TREX in Happy Camp, the Salmon River, and Orleans in the fall of 2015 are under way, but we will need community support on many levels to make it work. Now is the time for us to create a new relationship with fire in these mountains. I hope you will join us. Send an e-mail to if you want to get involved in this year's training. 

Will Harling serves as Director of the Mid Klamath Watershed Council. Born and raised in the Middle Klamath, Will brings a lifetime of local knowledge and a love for this place to the work of watershed restoration. 

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