Klamath: Rios to Rivers

Student paddling exchange mixed Chilean and California tribal youths

All manner of craft take to the Klamath River.

Redwood dugout canoes, plastic kayaks, and rubber rafts all made unhurried progress down the Klamath River, steered by paddlers as diverse as their boats; kids from Chilean Patagonia, tribal youth from the Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa, and Klamath nations, adults from California and Colorado, and one Chilena actress from Hollywood. The Klamath River had never seen such a coterie, but neither was the time ever better for such a coalition to go paddling, for they all shared a common story — a life affected by dams.

The tribal youth all live along the Klamath, where legal wrangling continues toward the removal of four antiquated, salmon-killing dams. Deconstruction could begin there by 2020. In Chile, there is a half-built dam on the Maipo River that remains in question, and a water law enacted under the dictatorship of Pinochet over three decades ago, privatizing all the nation’s waterways. Today, it’s primed for a re-write.

Aligning the trans-hemispheral anti-dam youth movements is Weston Boyles, and his Rios to Rivers organization. Their first exchange, in 2013, combined a Chilean kayak club and Colorado students in response to dam threats on Chile’s Baker and Pascua Rivers. Those mega-projects were shelved, marking a major victory for river advocates worldwide, but leaving Boyles with a new question in light of the Klamath dam removal, “Why do we continue to build new dams on one side of the world while dams are being removed on the other side of the world?” Hence, the Klamath exchange.

Touring dams on the Klamath River. Photo by Ben Lehman.

Boyles’s diverse group of students made a full tour of the Klamath system, and its myriad issues. They met with farmers along the upper Klamath who are modernizing techniques to incorporate wetlands. They took tours of two Klamath dams, and they paddled over 100 miles of the river, finishing with a community gathering at the native village of Requa, where the Klamath debauches into the Pacific.

That’s a long way from the upper Klamath, the dams, and damaging agriculture. Yet cooperation between the two diverse regions married by water is essential for a new Klamath paradigm. Most kids living along the lower river had never seen the upper basin before the trip. That regional junket was perhaps as important as the trip to South America they plan to make in February.

Klamath youth on the river. Photo by Weston Boyles.

Still, the goals of Rios to Rivers remain global, and long-term. Taking teenagers to the river might seem trivial when facing multi-national dam builders, but by the time the Klamath dams actually come down, these kids could be resource managers.

And there is a dam in Chile that was built during Boyles’ youth which could be slated for removal once the next generation of Chileans reclaim their water rights. It’s on a renowned piece of whitewater called the Bio Bio.

Teaming up for Rios to Rivers.

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