South Fork Eel Goes Dry at Main Eel River – First Time Ever, Says Eel River Recovery Project

South Fork of the Eel River Dry near historic confluence with the main stem. [Photo from ERRP]

South Fork of the Eel River Dry near historic confluence with the main stem. [Photo from ERRP]

Press release from the Eel River Recovery Project:

The current record two-year drought is causing record low Eel River flows, according to U.S. Geologic Survey flow gauges, but on Friday, September 17, the Eel River Recovery Project discovered a condition in the field that would not be revealed by flow gauges. The South Fork Eel River was not connected to the main Eel River, and in fact the bed was mostly dry below Highway 101 at Dyerville, which is an unprecedented condition.

Eel River at Scotia running 26.3 cfs on September 17.

Eel River at Scotia running 26.3 cfs on September 17.

An examination of USGS flow gauge results for all Eel River stations on September 17 indicated that the main Eel River flow at Scotia was 26.3 cubic feet per second (cfs), while the historic low for this location was 16 cfs in 1924. The latter year ushered in a 25 year-long drought that precipitated the Dust Bowl, but no other gauge in the Eel River watershed goes back to that date. The Van Duzen River, a large tributary that converges with the main Eel near Fortuna, was at record low with a flow of 2.54 cfs at Bridgeville. The previous low of 2.65 cfs was on the same date in 2014, also the second year of a major drought.

The main Eel River at Ft Seward tells a different story, where the historic low of 7.4 cfs came in 2002, and the present flow level is 15.4 cfs. Interestingly, the Middle Fork Eel River flow at Dos Rios of 7.4 cfs is more than four times the all time low of 1.64 set in 2014. Why would there be so much flow in 2021 when the rainfall years were similar or worse. The answer is the August Fire, where flows were depleted in 2014 because the over-stocked forest of the watershed was causing a decrease in baseflow, as well as creating huge fuel loads that fed the fire. The reduction in trees and evapotranspiration have increased flow in the Middle Fork and North Fork Eel River, and help feed flows at Ft Seward.

On the South Fork, the headwater tributary Elder Creek is an old-growth watershed with well-studied hydrology. On September 17, Elder Creek flow was 0.5 cfs and the record for the date is 0.40 set in 2007. From there downstream, it is all record lows. At Leggett, the flow was 6.98 cfs, less than the previous historic low of 8.86 cfs in 2002. The flow of the South Fork at Miranda of 7.07 cfs was also a record, and barely more than at Leggett, while the previous low of 12.1 cfs was in 2008. Historically, the South Fork Eel River was geologists call a gaining stream, but altered watershed hydrology combined with severe drought is causing flow to diminish in a downstream direction, this year causing it to be dry at the mouth.

Bull Creek feeds the lower South Fork Eel just above Dyerville and the USGS gauge indicates that it is currently at a record low flow of 0.03 cfs, which is barely flowing at riffle crests. The previous low flow was 0.10 cfs in 2014. The Bull Creek watershed was half clear-cut in the 1950s and 1960s before it was acquired as part of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. A long-term flow study of the Eel River by Eli Asarian for Friends of Eel River found that the flow of Bull Creek had decreased 50% from 1950 to 2015. Forty to 60-year-old overstocked forests in the watershed are transpiring water back to the atmosphere and depleting baseflows. This is a pervasive condition across the watershed where ever clear-cut logging took place.

Drought conditions in the Eel River basin are not uniform, and the drought is more serious in the south in the Mendocino and Lake County portions of the watershed. A large stationary high has recurred over the last two years, pushing the jet-stream north, and storms that would otherwise hit the North Coast, are going towards Canada. This deflection results in more robust rainfall in the Fortuna area and the Van Duzen River sub-basin, but far less in southerly interior basin watersheds. Lower flows there have biological implications because they keep salmon from reaching optimal spawning grounds in headwater tributaries.

The Eel River Recovery Project is non-profit organization that assists citizen monitoring throughout the watershed. We also assist communities with water conservation and restoring forest and grassland health in order to improve base-flows and biodiversity, to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire, and to create jobs in restoration. See www.eelriverrecovery.org for more information. Call ERRP Managing Director Pat Higgins, if you have questions or want to participate in citizen monitoring at 707 223-7200.

UPDATE 9/25: Recent Rains Add Water to Drought Deprived South Fork of the Eel River Allowing It to Flow Into the Main Branch

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Hugh Manatee (banned by LoCO)
Hugh Manatee (banned by LoCO)
27 days ago

Enjoying the rainy day today!

Let’s hope we have many more to come!

Last edited 27 days ago by Hugh Manatee
The science
The science
27 days ago

So what I am reading is historic logging has impacted the watersheds, too many small trees now. Looks like all the blame can no longer be put on the cannabis farmers.

Eugene Cuspis Attux Levi IV
Eugene Cuspis Attux Levi IV
27 days ago
Reply to  The science

Why are there any farms in arcata and orick. The tiny amount of cattle could be relocated. Expand the Red Woods.

Last edited 27 days ago by Eugene Cuspis Attux Levi IV
Jeffersonian
Jeffersonian
26 days ago
Reply to  The science

You are reading the opinion of Pat Higgins, who has been wrong on many of his opinions about the Eel river. So take it with a grain of salt. The middle fork drainage had late snows this year, and occasional summer thunderstorms and has far less pot grows. The south fork drainage is not a snowfall or thunderstorm drainage. The bottom line is that late spring precipitation was very low, on top of below average winter rain and further hampered by excessive marijuana cultivation, the number of grows exceeding the capacity of many parts of the watershed. Having young forests may cause more evapotranspiration, but they also shade and cool the environment, which is offsetting. Furthermore, the trees are dormant in the late summer, and using little water. Lastly, this has happened many times before, but the fish runs at those times were still healthy and able to rebound. Now they are below the base levels necessary to sustain themselves, and pleas for emergency flow increases and a fish hatchery and other meaningful restoration measures are largely ignored by our representatives who care more about trails, bicycles, kayaks and preserves than the health of a river. It is more than… Read more »

efox
efox
27 days ago

Jesus that is scary info. We finally got rain here on the coast Almost an inch by my rain gauge at 11:30 am. Hopefully the storm will push east. Just a drop in the bucket I know, but any rain we get is a help.

Aaaand,....now some rain
Aaaand,....now some rain
27 days ago
Reply to  efox

One thing to note is the flow of the gravel. The river bars themselves flow downstream, just at a slower rate. Bars of sediment stack up at a confluence just like water would. This spot is on the South Fork, right upstream of the confluence with the slightly larger Main Stem. It seems reasonable there would be a relatively high amount of gravel there with subterranean flow.
The good thing about low rain winters is the abundant stream side vegetation. The willows and alders taking a chance in the channels now will At least help trap sediment during the next high water events.

HotCoffee
HotCoffee
27 days ago

It’s been pouring here on the So. Fork for over an hour…horay!!☂️☂️

I like stars
I like stars
27 days ago

Very sad. Hope the rain today will be enough to reconnect. Perhaps equipment could be used to keep a temporary connection (even a small one). Is annual removal of sediment from traditional holes, and some from reaches too,, a realistic idea?

Last edited 27 days ago by I like stars
old guy
old guy
27 days ago
Reply to  I like stars

fish and game used to have ‘the gren monster’, based out of big bar, dredge the trinity years ago (80’s) for fish spawning habitat. would be a great idea if they restarted gravel bar improvement again. i seem to remember the ‘environmentalists’ and the ‘dredgers’ didn’t like it much for some reason or another.

Realwood
Realwood
27 days ago
Reply to  I like stars

I’ve been thinking the same too. These streams are in need of a good dredging.. all the water is under the gravel sediment, down in the bedrock. Randal company has been removing gravel from the tuby park area of river for decades… Doesn’t seem to be making noticable difference though.

Guest
Guest
27 days ago

I actually “discovered” that condition, and reported to you on it in the comments on the 14th and/or 15th, my comments were held for moderation. ERRP did not “discover” this condition. I did. They probably caught wind of my report, and then scooped me after the fact… If they are the supposed “watchdogs” the Eel River, what am I, chopped liver? I found it first. It’s documented. They were asleep at the switch, (or the guage), while I actually patrolled. WTF? I was doing actual periodic hands on flow measurements closer to the confluence from September 4, 2021, to September 14, 2021, below the dried up section. Then I discovered it on the 14th. I reported it directly to you, while still on scene. If that gave them the heads up, that should be acknowledged. It’s kind of plagiarism. At least they should give some credit for that… Shouldn’t they? Or maybe you? You barely acknowledged it the day I offered to send you photos. I would have posted them (one) if I could have sized them down, but I don’t possess the technology. One photo would not have done the condition justice. Like I already offered, I could email… Read more »

Last edited 27 days ago by Guest
Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

Do you recall me reporting it to you?
Our effort was as a courteous gesture to you. You ignored it. Then ran the story as if it was from a different, preferable source.
And they didn’t discover it, if we discovered it first.

It’s so very “Christopher Columbus” of them, isn’t it?

Even my wife was a little shocked that ERRP claimed that they ‘discovered the condition”.

She has been with me constantly in our efforts to monitor the South Fork Eel River flow there.

They have only confirmed it.

Are you acknowledging that we reported it to you first?

It sounds like it, but it’s pretty subtle.

Alas, a small victory is better than nothing.
It was the very first report. I wanted it to be credited to you, via this rogue reporter, as a gesture of thanks.

You shined it on.

Somehow, even though it was unprecedented, It was deemed unworthy, and not the breaking news that it was.

Then suddenly, from a different source, it becomes front page stuff. Their report, was not unprecedented…

Why you didn’t even acknowledge our unprecedented report to you, is a question only you can answer.

Last edited 27 days ago by Guest
Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

Actually, I had hoped my report to you might have inspired you to go see it for yourself, maybe even with your family.
I sent you pictures @ 3:09.
I would have posted them with my initial report, but I had no way of reducing them to 1mb. I could have only posted one as well.

At least the story was broken on your website. It really should be attributed to you. That was my intent, for you to receive the credit, and that is how I feel it should be, not so much me, as I am anonymous.

ERRP just latched on, that is pretty clear, and then took it and ran with it, as if the discovery was theirs.

Their mission statement reads:

“To empower communities to collaborate in monitoring the ecological conditions of the Eel River. To share information about the health of the watershed and work together to formulate and implement a restoration strategy.”

They did not empower me.
Quite the contrary.

Last edited 27 days ago by Guest
Farce
Farce
26 days ago
Reply to  Guest

Right on! For reporting the condition. I have disagreements with Kym over some stuff but I will also point out here that she is VERY busy. She did an exhaustive job on reporting the fires and I imagine she also has a family and a real life somehow so…I can see her missing something sometimes- with zero personal reason involved towards commenters on this blog. So I thank you Guest for walking the river bar and sending out your report. We should all be concerned about the health of our river. Don’t let this miss get you down- Keep up the good work!

Realwood
Realwood
26 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

What happened to the”American way” guys comment that mine was attached to? Did he do a no no?

LittleBoPeep
LittleBoPeep
27 days ago
Reply to  Guest

Guest, um, strictly sticking with facts, Pat Higgins of ERRP has been monitoring that exact locale for very many years, along with residents who work and exchange info with him often. Perhaps you’re not the only one participating in the data compilation for that spot. This is a very alarming topic indeed, but not really appropriate material for a pissing contest. Like my kids fighting over who saw an eagle first. Even if you are the Discoverer of Sacred Information, wouldn’t you be satisfied in knowing that said info was delivered to the proper avenues, wouldn’t that be the point of sharing such important, Sacred Info? Maybe if you shared your name, Guest, they’d properly credit you with providing further humor in the rhbb comments section. Meanwhile, be a good team player and share your info with the proper folks and agencies, rather than in the rhbb comments, then it doesn’t matter anymore who the I’s are and only that We are coming together in ways that we can, to be part of the solution. But I said it first!!! in a comment is about as kindergarten as it gets!

Lost Croat Outburst
Lost Croat Outburst
27 days ago
Reply to  LittleBoPeep

“Yeah, “Guest” has always been a bit tightly strung and irritable. Part of his charm (says Mr. Mellow). Takes all kinds. I know it’s maybe a free country when I’m irritated by all the weirdos (titter, guffaw).

The [edit]terrorists are a bit beyond the pale. Stop the Squeal. They have nothing.

Guest
Guest
27 days ago

Lost Coast Outburst,

Thanks for the props! Seriously!

I’m charmed. I think I get what your saying… It’s nuanced…

My favorite.

I’m a little too complex, I guess.

Sometimes, when I’m totally being serious, people actually think I’m just joking around.

Sometimes, when I’m just totally joking around, people actually think I’m being serious.

I like English humor, too.
Not everyone understands it.

I find it hilarious.

Now if my darn, “Moderna Hand” would wake up, I could finish this comment…

And then, if only the other rumor is true, I’ll have “more courage”.

Last edited 27 days ago by Guest
Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  LittleBoPeep

Not quite, but I’m sure your insult will fly.

Last edited 27 days ago by Guest
Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  LittleBoPeep

You sound very involved.
Per the mission statement, is this comment of yours aligned in an effort to collaborate and empower communities to monitor the ecological conditions of the Eel River? Doesn’t seem like it.

That is where my efforts were aligned. FYI. And to share that information about the health of the watershed. That is what I did.
You’re welcome.

More closely aligned with the mission statement than whatever you just tried to assert, that is elementary.

But, nice try.

Bug on a Windshield
Bug on a Windshield
26 days ago
Reply to  LittleBoPeep

Don’t know if guest is doing the research for fun or work, either way, it’s needed data. If it is for fun , then an acknowledgement is just common courtesy. If it is work, then often times the first to publish is the one who gets the grants and funding. Otherwise, it’s back to doing it for fun while holding another job. So basically, two jobs for the price of one. It is a far cry from fighting over who saw an eagle first. Unlike my brother and I who, in the 1970s, got a quarter for seeing the Matterhorn first on the way to Disneyland. The first to report gets the prize.

Guest, if this is more than just a fun hobby, you may want to take this further. Just be careful. As someone else mentioned, EERP has been doing this for a while, so it may be you who are stepping on toes.

Last edited 26 days ago by Bug on a Windshield
Guest
Guest
26 days ago

So, it’s about money, figures.
I wasn’t trying to step on anyone’s toes, when I discovered the dry condition, nobody else’s toes were even around.

The mystery becomes, who is this “Michael M” that responded to my comments on RHBB?

And why does he suddenly go silent after I inform him that the river is dry for 60′ ?

Aaaand,....now some rain
Aaaand,....now some rain
26 days ago
Reply to  Guest

You can see it from the freeway, and Avenue bridge.
Has anyone noticed they put a GAS Station right in Richardson Grove!!? I’m sending out a press release later…

Guest
Guest
26 days ago

Does it look like my photos came from the bridge? I noticed it was apparent from there, as I left the area, and that anyone could easily see it from that vantage point, if they wished.

It isn’t necessary to actually walk it, closer access is 4WD recommended.

Guest
Guest
27 days ago

Kym, And Michael M, (from the14th),

Here are pertinent comments to and from a possible “current” or former Eel River Recovery Project board member.
(EERP), to whom the “discovery” is miscredited.

https://kymkemp.com/2021/09/14/sohum-towns-restrict-water-usage-as-eel-river-falls-to-historic-lows/#comment-1423429

https://kymkemp.com/2021/09/14/sohum-towns-restrict-water-usage-as-eel-river-falls-to-historic-lows/#comment-1423544

Could this be in reply to Michael McKaskle?
That was my impression at first?

Coincidence?

I realize moderation may have skewed the order of the comments, but clearly it is I that brought this to his attention. And then maybe ERRP?

Se la vie…

It a good thing he was “monitoring” things… Like the RHBB comment section…

EERP gives no credit to RHBB either…

🤔🧐 Strange…😁

🤔🧐 Maybe ERRP could make a little significant donation to RHBB as a nice gesture for the heads up on the dry river that they would have missed documenting otherwise…

🤔🧐, And be generous, ERRC,😁
🤔🧐 And mention “guest” in regards to the contribution, please.😁
🧐That would make me very happy.

Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  Guest

And my other comment? Did I forget the sarcasm font? I thought it was so obvious.
Too much abbreviation? I thought we were all adults?
Too much truth?
It’s not like asking for a little literary credit is like asking for a lot of literal credit. It wasn’t like I I was asking to borrow real money.
Did I run afoul of toeing the moderation line?
Or did the other comment just vanish into thin air? Sheesh, I never know.

Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

I don’t think so.
The comment I was referring to that disappeared was the other one in regards to the river drying up being my discovery, and it not being given proper credit, or even an acknowledgement, even if it was just to “guest”.

I informed you.
Then you run a story on it?
Thanks for documenting my discovery. That was important.
I saw it coming for weeks.
Even gave you a heads up.
You allowed the discovery to be attributed to someone else?

My “discovery” was “misattributed” to EERP.

For them to claim the “discovery”, as theirs is dubious at best.

It wasn’t. That is clear. I was doing the monitoring. Not them.

Can’t put my finger on exactly the right term.

Scooped? Swooped?

They could have said it was brought to their attention by an unnamed
member of the public who was a monitor, or something other than “they discovered it”. That’s a stretch.

I led them to it.

Why was it necessary for them to take the credit for the “discovery”?

Notoriety?

I just emailed you my pictures from the 14th.
Not sure if they went through.

If so, will you add them to “The Story”?

Last edited 27 days ago by Guest
Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

Wow! Cool! Thanks. These photos were taken for RHBB. You my have them for your use if you wish. A small contribution. The water you see is the termination of flow. It reemerges further towards the confluence… in the second picture….

Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

Masterfully done, Kym.
Note the signature North West Pacific Railroad trestle in the background. That bamboo stick is 72″, the maximum depth was 6″,
I timed the current at 6′ in 8.04 seconds. I came up with a flow of 1.12 CFS. Not sure how accurate that is, but hopefully it’s close.

This is actually downstream from the dry section, about 400′, and about 100′ from the confluence.

I’ve always wondered if the South Fork would even get low enough for me to jump across without getting wet. 70 inches is all I could do at 59. So I didn’t quite make it where the bamboo was. That was the narrowest where the full flow had resumed.

Upstream, where it was dry, it was easy…

Never thought I would see that, it was a shocker, even though I had anticipated it.

Really, if you get a chance, see it with your own eyes.

I wish I could document some other places as well.

Thanks again for all your hard work, it hasn’t gone without notice, I assure you.

I am much obliged.

Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, isn’t it?

Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  Kym Kemp

Are you saying I’m heavy?
I am offended.

Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  Guest

Just kidding.

Jeffersonian
Jeffersonian
27 days ago

10000 pot gardens sucking a naturally summer drought river even drier.

Yeah,sure
Yeah,sure
27 days ago
Reply to  Jeffersonian

Where do you get that number?

Rio
Rio
27 days ago
Reply to  Jeffersonian

I wonder what it would be with no trees

Martin
Martin
27 days ago

Lived in Humboldt all my life, and I just can’t believe how much the South Fork of the Eel river has dried up. I wonder what percentage of water is flowing underground. The little amount of rain we received today basically amounts to nothing. Praying for a major rainy winter to bring the rivers and streams up to full, but no flood please.

Minority Abuse
Minority Abuse
27 days ago
Reply to  Martin

The impact of too many asses to wipe.

Martin
Martin
26 days ago
Reply to  Minority Abuse

Your comment is completely off base my friend. It has nothing to do with using the toilet.

I like stars
I like stars
27 days ago
Reply to  Martin

In that little stretch, currently 100% of the water is flowing underground.

Guest
Guest
27 days ago
Reply to  I like stars

Exactly.

Martin
Martin
26 days ago
Reply to  I like stars

Thanks, I was going to take a shovel and dig down to the water level in that area. Boy you saved me a ton of work!

Bug on a Windshield
Bug on a Windshield
26 days ago
Reply to  Martin

If I dig a hole and reach water, can I drop a line and catch a salmon?

Last edited 26 days ago by Bug on a Windshield
Martin
Martin
26 days ago

Save one for me Bug.

Fbnative
27 days ago

Wonder what the flow would be without pot farms?

Minority Abuse
Minority Abuse
27 days ago
Reply to  Fbnative

Without any humans in that area. ..?

Catch me drift?

#2030forthewin

Aaaand,....now some rain
Aaaand,....now some rain
26 days ago
Reply to  Fbnative

Except for a very small minority who managed to find a “disconnected” well, legal pot had to stop water withdraws by April 1st. They know who filed what..somewhere. The rest are all the rest.

Joe
Joe
27 days ago

First time ever since started keeping record in the 20’s. Probably not the first time

Guest
Guest
27 days ago

I could have told you that…
Oh wait!, I did tell you that…

$$$
$$$
26 days ago

Cannabis cultivation and the quest for the ole mighty dollar. Good job Emerald Triangle. Suck the aquifers dry for capitalism and complain about the situation.

Bluefin
Bluefin
26 days ago

LOL, no mention of illegal diversions for cannabis farming? Who wrote this article? I was unaware that 60 yo trees are so deeply rooted into the water table they dominantly affect base flow. What a bunch of crock.

Bug on a Windshield
Bug on a Windshield
26 days ago

It wasn’t much rain, but we got several 5gal buckets filled along with a good portion of our pickle barrel. Hope others did too.

Mattolian
Mattolian
26 days ago

Hdew crk is up a few, and mattole is up a couple inches.

Joe Friday
Joe Friday
26 days ago

I got banned from the LoCo regarding this very article because I made the statement that if I could I would remove every human from the planet (destroy). Humans are a worthless species and have done nothing but destroy everything they get their greasy little monkey fingers on. I challenge anyone to name anything good that humans have done that wasn’t involved with either fixing something they screwed up in the environment or just plain taking more than their share out of selfish greed. Humans don’t care if they destroy millions of individual animals so why should I care if humans are destroyed down to the last individual?

Littlefoot
Littlefoot
26 days ago
Reply to  Joe Friday

Feel free to start with yourself.

Littlefoot
Littlefoot
26 days ago

This is a bigger deal than Covid.

Joe Friday
Joe Friday
26 days ago

Testing 1..2..3….

So I got banned from the LoCo regarding this article because I claimed that humans are worthless as a species and should be extirpated from the earth. Is there anybody out there that can give me a good reason why humans should exist? All they do is destroy everything they touch and they have no regard for any other life on the planet if it gets in their way, including other humans. What is so great about the human species?

Last edited 26 days ago by Joe Friday
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[…] Kathy McCovey is a Karuk Tribal member with profound expertise about forests and Karuk food systems. She has been caring for Klamath Basin forests her whole life and says what she and others in her homeland are witnessing is unprecedented. […]