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Chapter 2 -- Description of the Smith River watershed


The Smith River flows into the Pacific Ocean 3.5 air miles (5.6 km) south of the California/Oregon state line. It is a relatively short river system that extends inland approximately 32 air miles (52 km) (Smith River NRA 1994). The watershed covers 719 square miles, including 628 square miles in northwestern California and 91 square miles in southwestern Oregon (Table 6, McCain et al. 1995). The land is primarily forested and mountainous except for agricultural areas on the coastal plain. The watershed consists of five ecological subsections (Table 7, Figure 1 will be added).

Table 6. Information about the Smith River watershed.


English units:

Metric units:

Total area

719 square miles

1862 square kilometers

Mean annual precipitation

113 inches

287 centimeters

Mean annual runoff

82 inches

208 centimeters


2,900,000 acre feet

3.576 billion cubic meters

Minimum recorded flow


160 cubic feet/second

4.53 cubic meters/second

Maximum recorded flow


250,000 cubic feet/second

7008 cubic meters/second

Table 7. Hierarchy of ecological units of the Smith River watershed at various scales (Bailey 1996, California 1994, United States 1978).


Coastal areas

Inland areas


Humid temperate (200)

Humid temperate (200)


Mediterranean (260)

Mediterranean Regime Mountains (M260)


California Coastal Steppe / Mixed Forest / Redwood Forest (263)

Sierran Forest / Alpine Meadows (M261)


Northern California Coast (263A)

Klamath Mountains (M261A)


1) Crescent City Plain (263Aa)

1) Western Jurassic (M261Aa)


2) Northern Franciscan (263Ab)

2) Gasquet Mountain Ultramafics (M261Ab)


3) Siskiyou Mountains (M261Ad)

Most of the Smith River basin is sparsely populated. Small communities in the watershed include Smith River, Hiouchi, Gasquet, and Big Flat. Crescent City, population 8,805, is located several miles outside the watershed and lies about ten miles (16 km) south of the Smith River mouth. Pelican Bay State Prison is located near Fort Dick and is occupied by about 4400 inmates. There are also residential areas along the lower Smith River between Highways 101 and Highway 199.


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