Karuk Tribe Recovers From Fire Emergency, Bans Water Use Due to Toxic Algae Bloom


The Karuk Tribe declared a state of emergency after damage from the Fort Goff fire, which burned 23,658 acres on and around its territory from August 5 through September 10, but now it is under siege from a different quarter: water.

The tribe has told its members to stay away from the Klamath Reservoirs and river because blooms of Microcystis aeruginosa, a toxic algae. Area waters to avoid include the Copco Reservoir, Iron Gate Reservoir and the Klamath downstream to Turwar on the Yurok Reservation, the Karuk announced on its website.

“Microcystis aeruginosa secretes the toxin microcystin with is a known tumor promoter and liver toxin,” the tribe said in a statement. “Expsoure to high levels of microcystin can lead to organ failure and death.”

The bloom, which Karuk officials call an “annual event” that seems to coincide with downstream tribes’ annual World Renewal Ceremonies, during which spiritual leaders bathe in the river, “putting themselves at high risk of exposure in order to carry out religious obligations,” the tribe said.

A Blue Green Algae (BGA) Work Group, comprised of officials from the California Water Quality Control Board and the Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment, the Karuk said, is addressing the problem.

Dams are the culprit, trapping shallow, nutrient-rich water behind them, the tribe said. In summer that heats up enough to provide “an optimal environment for the algae to bloom.”

For this and other reasons, “Tribes, fishermen, and conservation groups have called for the removal of the dams to restore runs of salmon that are in dramatic decline and alleviate the toxic blooms,” the tribe said in its release.

The ban comes on the heels of an emergency situation caused by the Fort Goff fire. On August 28 the Karuk Tribe declared a state of emergency, saying the fire in the Klamath National Forest was creating a public health threat in Karuk ancestral territory.

Several areas in California’s Seiad Valley were evacuated, and the tribe offered them shelter and a ranch with 230 acres of grazing room for livestock. The fire was put out completely on September 10, according to InciWeb.