Conflict Resolution: The Klamath River Basin

Conflict Resolution and the Klamath River Water Conflict

Educational Solutions High School Dialogue Project “Sharing the Klamath Watershed: Bringing Together the Next Generation of Stakeholders”

Three Klamath Disasters Brought Conflict among STAKEHOLDERS

  • 2001 Irrigation Water shut off to 1,200 Oregon/California Klamath Project FARMERS and Wildlife Refuges (Upper Klamath River Basin)
  • 2002 Well over 34,000 spawning salmon die in California Lower Klamath River impacting fishing and culture of TRIBES (Lower Klamath River Basin)
  • 2006 Commercial salmon FISHERMEN could not fish along 780 miles of Oregon and California coast because of low spawning returns to the Klamath River (Pacific Coast)

Stakeholder’s Clash

  • In Fall 2001, stakeholder clashes came close to violence
  • For several years, different groups sued each other, but the people of the Klamath River Basin are not wealthy
  • After years of costly litigation, aggressive words in newspapers, and arguments about which stakeholder group had the best science, the different stakeholder groups started to talk

    Conflict Resolution Replaced Lawsuits

  • Some 26 Klamath River Basin groups negotiated for two and a half years and on January 15, 2008, released “The Proposed Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement for the Sustainability of Public and Trust Resources and Affected Communities”, Hereafter called “The Agreement”
  • Of the 26 groups, two major negotiating stakeholder groups did not sign the Agreement
    • Off-Project Upper Basin farmers wanted more guarantees to protect their agriculture
    • Lower Basin Hoopa Tribe wanted more guarantees to protect fish

Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement February 18, 2010

  • The final document was signed on February 18, 2010 in Salem, OR. Signers included the states of California and Oregon; the Karuk, Klamath ,and Yurok Tribes; local irrigation districts; companies; and environmental NGOs
  • The US Congress failed to pass legislation that would implement the KBRA by the January 1, 2016 deadline. A new agreement, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) was signed on April 6, 2016, which plans to remove four hydroelectric dams to enable fish passage by 2020

Why is the Klamath Basin Agreement Unique?

1)  People who actually use the water were the major negotiators in “The Agreement”

2) The Agreement is a living document that will adapt to stakeholder needs and changing conditions over time

Klamath Basin groups will have to work together for years to come

Why Learn Conflict Resolution Skills?

  • When people deal with issues that are important to them, they often end up shouting at each other
  • For conflict anywhere, in families, schools, or communities, experts have come up with ways to help resolve problems
  • The following guidelines help people attack the problem instead of each other

Nine Principles of Conflict Resolution Adapted from US Navy’s “Principles of Conflict Resolution”

1. Think Before Reacting

  • The tendency in a conflict situation is to react immediately.
  • In order to resolve conflict successfully it is important to think before we react – consider the options and weigh the possibilities
  • The same reaction is not appropriate for every conflict

2. Listen Actively

  • Active listening means listening not only to words but also to what is said by intonation and body language
  • Active listening also involves letting the speaker know that he or she has been heard. For example, “What I heard you say is…”

3. Assure a Fair Process

  • It is important to be fair to all parties to the conflict
  • Even the appearance of unfairness can destroy the resolution

4. Attack the Problem

  • When emotions, are high it is much easier to begin attacking the person on the other side than it is to solve the problem
  • The only way conflicts get resolved is when we attack the problem and not each other

5. Accept Responsibility

  • Attempting to place blame only creates resentment and anger that heightens any existing conflict
  • In order to resolve a conflict we must accept our share of the responsibility and eliminate the concept of blame

6. Use Direct Communication

  • Say what you mean and mean what you say. Avoid talking around a problem
  • The best way to accomplish this is to use “I-Messages“
  • With an “I-Message” you express your own wants, needs or concerns to the listener
  • “I-Messages” are clear and non-threatening ways of telling others what you want and how you feel
  • A “You-message” blames or criticizes the listener. It suggests that she or he is at fault
  • I-Message (what I feel and need) You-Message (usually blaming)

Tribes and Fishermen

  • I fear the fish will die and I will lose my livelihood and way of life. I want enough water for fish to survive
  • You don’t care about fish and you just want water for your farm


  • I fear losing my farm and my way of life. I want water to plant crops and stay in business
  • You don’t care if farms survive. You just care about the fish

7. Look for Common Interests

  • If we are going to resolve conflict successfully, we must uncover why we want something and what is really important about the issue in conflict
  • Remember to look for the true interests of all the parties to the conflict

8. Focus on the Future

  • In order to understand the conflict it is important to understand the different points of view including the history of the conflict
  • However, to resolve the conflict we must focus on the future and what we want to do differently tomorrow

9. Options for Mutual Gain

  • Look for ways to assure that we are all better off tomorrow than we are today
  • Our gain at the expense of someone else only prolongs conflict and prevents resolution

What is an Effective Stakeholder?

  • An effective stakeholder works with other stakeholders to get what one’s own group needs and makes compromises to help other groups get what they need
  • An effective stakeholder
    • Knows own group’s position
    • Listens carefully to understand other groups’ positions
    • Follows the U.S. Navy’s 9 Rules for Conflict Resolution


  • “Principles of Conflict Resolution.” N.d. Department of the Navy: Alternative Dispute Resolution. Retrieved February 26, 2008 from
  • We chose this material from a military organization to emphasize that conflict resolution is an established and respected approach to problem solving
  • Note, most material is directly quoted, but occasionally shortened for easier communication to students.