Historic Water Agreement Reached on Upper Klamath Basin Water


UnDam Klamath | © Patrick McCully

The Klamath River, CA needs to be undammed to provide habitat for salmon and steelhead! | © Patrick McCully

Working together the Klamath Tribes, U.S. Department of the Interior, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, Senator Wyden (D-Ore), Senator Merkley (D-Ore), and upper Klamath River basin irrigators have reached an agreement [PDF] on long-standing disputes related to water and river management in the Upper Klamath River Basin. The disputes had slowed the advancement of the broader Klamath River restoration agreements that American Rivers played a lead role in negotiating in 2010.

Now resolved, disputes that tied up water rights and hindered river restoration are replaced with an agreement that benefits the Tribes, the agricultural community, and the overall Klamath River ecosystem. A true win-win-win, this agreement sets a high precedent for finding mutually favorable solutions to water management. Announced yesterday, the newly proposed agreement includes three main components:

  • A Water Use Program that will increase stream flows in the tributaries above Upper Klamath Lake – adding at least 30,000 acre feet of inflows to the lake each year while creating a stable, predictable setting for agriculture to continue in the Upper Klamath Basin;
  • A Riparian Program that will improve and protect streamside vegetation in order to help restore fisheries; and
  • An Economic Development Program for the Klamath Tribes that will help their transitional efforts towards economic self-sufficiency

This agreement builds off two settlements signed in 2010 by American Rivers and dozens of other Klamath stakeholders: the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement. Together, these settlements call for removing four dams on the Klamath and improving river conditions. The goal? To restore salmon and steelhead runs to hundreds of miles of historic habitat in the upper Klamath for the first time in 100 years, and resolve the biggest water disputes in the basin. Yesterday’s announcement represents a landmark step forward in reaching this goal.

The new agreement goes beyond setting wheels back in motion, it also resolves water right disputes that were not addressed in the 2010 agreements. The most senior water rights in the upper Klamath are held by the Klamath Tribes. If the Klamath Tribes were to use all the water they are entitled to, downstream irrigation would not be possible in drier years, negatively impacting the downstream agricultural community. Under the new agreement, the Klamath Tribes conditionally agree to share water in times of shortages. In exchange, the Tribes will receive active landowner involvement in riparian restoration, resolution of ongoing water litigation, and economic development funding to create employment opportunities and aid in support of tribal cultural rights.

“This agreement is nothing short of historic,” said Governor Kitzhaber. “On one of the more complex issues facing the state, people committed their time, energy, and expertise to come up with solutions that support a stable agricultural economy and healthy fisheries and riparian areas. Creating this kind of success through patient and deliberate collaboration shows us that when we work together, we can find a win in every conflict, and I send my thanks to the many people who created a way forward for the Basin.”

American Rivers could not agree more! It is our hope this new agreement will clear the path for passing the federal legislation necessary to implement the 2010 Klamath agreements, keeping us on track to reopen the upper Klamath River to salmon and steelhead by 2020.

Working together the Klamath Tribes, U.S. Department of the Interior, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, Senator Wyden (D-Ore), Senator Merkley (D-Ore), and upper Klamath River basin irrigators have reached an agreement [PDF] on long-standing disputes related to water and river management in the Upper Klamath River Basin. The disputes had slowed the advancement of the broader Klamath River restoration agreements that American Rivers played a lead role in negotiating in 2010.

Now resolved, disputes that tied up water rights and hindered river restoration are replaced with an agreement that benefits the Tribes, the agricultural community, and the overall Klamath River ecosystem. A true win-win-win, this agreement sets a high precedent for finding mutually favorable solutions to water management. Announced yesterday, the newly proposed agreement includes three main components:

  • A Water Use Program that will increase stream flows in the tributaries above Upper Klamath Lake – adding at least 30,000 acre feet of inflows to the lake each year while creating a stable, predictable setting for agriculture to continue in the Upper Klamath Basin;
  • A Riparian Program that will improve and protect streamside vegetation in order to help restore fisheries; and
  • An Economic Development Program for the Klamath Tribes that will help their transitional efforts towards economic self-sufficiency

This agreement builds off two settlements signed in 2010 by American Rivers and dozens of other Klamath stakeholders: the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement. Together, these settlements call for removing four dams on the Klamath and improving river conditions. The goal? To restore salmon and steelhead runs to hundreds of miles of historic habitat in the upper Klamath for the first time in 100 years, and resolve the biggest water disputes in the basin. Yesterday’s announcement represents a landmark step forward in reaching this goal.

Iron Gate Dam, Klamath River, CA | © Thomas B. Dunklin

The Iron Gate Dam is the first barrier on the Klamath River blocking salmon from heading upstream | © Thomas B. Dunklin

The new agreement goes beyond setting wheels back in motion, it also resolves water right disputes that were not addressed in the 2010 agreements. The most senior water rights in the upper Klamath are held by the Klamath Tribes. If the Klamath Tribes were to use all the water they are entitled to, downstream irrigation would not be possible in drier years, negatively impacting the downstream agricultural community. Under the new agreement, the Klamath Tribes conditionally agree to share water in times of shortages. In exchange, the Tribes will receive active landowner involvement in riparian restoration, resolution of ongoing water litigation, and economic development funding to create employment opportunities and aid in support of tribal cultural rights.

“This agreement is nothing short of historic,” said Governor Kitzhaber. “On one of the more complex issues facing the state, people committed their time, energy, and expertise to come up with solutions that support a stable agricultural economy and healthy fisheries and riparian areas. Creating this kind of success through patient and deliberate collaboration shows us that when we work together, we can find a win in every conflict, and I send my thanks to the many people who created a way forward for the Basin.”

American Rivers could not agree more! It is our hope this new agreement will clear the path for passing the federal legislation necessary to implement the 2010 Klamath agreements, keeping us on track to reopen the upper Klamath River to salmon and steelhead by 2020.

5 Responses to “Historic Water Agreement Reached on Upper Klamath Basin Water”

debbie

This is a joke just wait until we sit high and dry in the summers with no water..

    Steve Rothert

    Hi Debbie,

    Thanks for your comment. I am assuming you are speaking from the perspective of an irrigator in the upper Klamath basin, and I think what you are suggesting is that the Klamath Tribes might not live up to their commitment to share water in dry years. Once the Tribes approve the deal, and their membership still must vote on it, I believe they will. But more importantly, this agreement provides upper basin irrigators assurance of getting some water in dry years, when in reality the Tribes could fully use their water rights, which have now been confirmed by the courts, and many irrigators would have no promise of getting any water at all. So, I would think irrigators in the upper Klamath would welcome this as significantly better than what they had a week ago. Regards, Steve

William Lee Kohler

This is really amazing and really does look like a great deal. It’ll be great to see the dams gone and the Salmon and rivers running again. Hopefully the Klamaths and other local tribes will also have special access to the Salmon that whites don’t and will not wind up getting shortchanged as they have in every other treaty of the past.

John Gibson

My name is John R. Gibson. I was raised on the Klamath River near Oak Noll. That was some seventy years ago. My
memories are of a great steelhead fisheries. I probably caught more steelhead on a fly before I was 18 than most people catch in life time. Any thing you can do to bring the Klamath back to it’s former glory would be a great thing. Although Copco dam was there then,removing the other dams would be a good first step.

jonnel covault

For years my family had a home on Copco Lake. While it was a beautiful setting, the water in the lake was very funky in the summer with lots of algae. There are ranches and cows around there and so manure piles near the lake : ( It will be good to get the Klamath River moving again!