Oregon’s Klamath River Water Conflict

Rules for 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”

What is the Klamath Basin Anyway?

  • A watershed is defined as a drainage basin
  • Using this definition, the Klamath River Basin includes all land that drains water into the Klamath River.

Upper & Lower Klamath River Watershed

  • Educational Solutions (ES) refers to the watershed of the entire Klamath River and its many tributaries as the Klamath River Basin or the Klamath River Watershed.
    • The Upper River Watershed refers to the inland territory in Oregon and California, above Iron Gate Dam near Yreka, California
    • The Lower River Watershed refers to the territory in California, from Iron Gate Dam to the Pacific Ocean, including the Trinity River and its tributaries

What is the Problem?

  • Farms! need irrigation water
  • Fish! need habitat
  • Renewable Energy!  people need power
  • All compete for water OVER-PROMISED by the U.S. Government

Klamath River Watershed Stakeholders

  • Farmers/ranchers: Klamath Project irrigators, Off Project irrigators, Shasta/Scott River irrigators
  • Native Americans: Hoopa Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Klamath Tribes, and Yurok Tribes
  • Commercial/sport ocean fishermen
  • Conservationists
  • PacifiCorp (owns and operates 4 hydroelectric dams)
  • Farmers need enough reliable water for irrigation of crops
  • Native Americans, Fishermen and Conservationists need enough water for fish and wildlife
  • PacifiCorp needs hydropower (water) to generate electricity

Timing is the Big Problem

The amount of Basin water changes with seasons

  • In low water years, there is not enough water in late spring, summer, or early fall
    • salmon spawn in spring and fall
    • farms need reliable water to plant and harvest in spring, summer, and early fall

First Klamath River Disaster:   Water Shortage

  • 2001 Irrigation Water shut off to 1,200 Oregon and  California Klamath Project Irrigators and Wildlife  Refuges

Second Klamath River Disaster:   Fish Die-off

  • 2002 Well over 34,000 spawning salmon die in  California Lower Klamath River impacting tribal  fishing

Third Klamath Disaster:   People’s livelihoods at stake

  • 2006 Commercial salmon fishing virtually closed along  780 miles of Oregon and California coast because of low spawning returns to the Klamath River.

Competing Legal Claims to Water

  • Native American Governments – Senior water rights OR: Klamath Tribes;  CA: Hoopa, Karuk, Yurok
    • Farmers/Ranchers 
      • Klamath Project – Water contracts and water rights
      • Off-Project and Shasta/Scott farmers – Water rights
      • Commercial Fishermen – Laws to protect fisheries
  • Conservationists – Laws to protect wildlife refuges and endangered species (Endangered Species Act)
  • Hydroelectric Dams operated by PacifiCorp – license to produce and sell power

Over-Promises Led to Costly Law Suits

  • Different stakeholder groups had different legal claims to water
  • US society changed over the last 50 years and Native American rights and species protection (Endangered Species Act – ESA) have become more influential than in the past.
  • Different stakeholder groups sued each other and sued the government