Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


Klamath Tribes and federal government put out historic call for water rights in drought-stricken Klamath Basin

KBC NOTE: Some quotes in article are by KBRA supporter Becky Hyde, former board member of Sustainable Northwest.
Scott Learn, The OregonianBy Scott Learn, The Oregonian 

Email the author | 
Follow on Twitter
on June 10, 2013 at 5:41 PM, updated 
June 11, 2013 at 7:54 AM
klamath drought.JPGView full sizeDrought is already hitting the Klamath Basin, as it has in years past, and the water call by tribes and the federal government will put great pressure on irrigators in the upper Klamath Basin.

The Klamath Tribes and the federal government called their water rights in southern Oregon's Klamath Basin for the first time Monday, likely cutting off irrigation water to hundreds of cattle ranchers and farmers in the upper basin this summer.

The historic calls come after Oregon set water rights priorities earlier this year in the basin, home to one of the nation's most persistent water wars. Drought has cut water flows in upper basin rivers to 40 percent of normal.

"This is a devastating day," said Becky Hyde, a longtime cattle rancher in the upper basin's Sprague River Valley. "This is such a core piece of our economy. It's not like we can lean back on tourism and things can be OK."

The Klamath Tribes' water rights apply to flows in Upper Klamath Lake tributaries, including the Sprague, Williamson and Wood rivers that run through the tribes' former reservation.

In March, after 38 years of work, the state found that the tribes' water rights dated to "time immemorial," making them by far the most senior. That means the tribes will get water to protect fish in traditional fishing grounds, including two species of suckers on the endangered species list.

Farmers irrigating through the federal government's 1905 Klamath ReclamationProject, covering roughly 200,000 acres that draw from the lake, will also get water, though they'll face restrictions, too.

But "off-project" irrigators on about 150,000 acres above the lake generally have junior water rights to reclamation-project irrigators. They'll have to tap wells if they can or see their water supplies reduced or shut off.

Some 300 to 400 irrigators – and 70,000 to 100,000 cattle – could be impacted, upper basin water groups estimated. State officials said shut offs could begin as soon as Wednesday, and would be calibrated throughout the summer as river flows and weather dictate.

Jeff Mitchell, lead negotiator for the Klamath Tribes, said the tribes worked with Gov. John Kitzhaber's office and other water users in recent months to try to reach a compromise.

"We didn't get there," Mitchell said. "What we had left to protect our treaty resources was seeking an enforcement of our right. That's the only tool we have available to us right now."

The Klamath Basin's water struggles first hit the national spotlight in the drought year of 2001, when farmers using irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake went dry and their plight became a rallying cry against putting fish before people.

The next year, farmers got more water under Bush administration directives and salmon died en masse near the Klamath River's mouth in Northern California.

In 2010, Oregon and California officials, along with PacifiCorp and tribal and environmental groups, signed a deal to remove four Klamath River hydropower dams and a Klamath Basin Restoration Agreeement to plow an extra $500 million into restoration.

The reclamation agreement set out sharing agreements in dry years between the tribes and reclamation project irrigators. It was also supposed to kick-start deal making with off-project irrigators.

But both deals have stalled in Congress, amid tight budgets and Republican opposition to dam removal. Klamath County voters elected opponents to the county board, which voted to withdraw from the agreements in February.

The tribes are still following the allocation agreements with reclamation project farmers. There are few in place with off-project irrigators.

Hyde is among those who support the deals. Had they passed Congress, she said, agreements likely would have been reached to share water equitably, helped by federal money to compensate ranchers who agreed to use less water. As it stands, she said, "we're going to take the big hit."

Other upper basin irrigators oppose the deal as too light on firm commitments. Opponents have also challenged the state's water rights allocations in court.

Garrett Roseberry, a cattle rancher and past president of the Sprague River Water Resource Foundation, said the restoration agreement doesn't have "any meat on the bones" when it comes to upper basin water allocations.

"There's still room to negotiate a solution that includes all parties," he said. "Everybody needs to keep a cool head and communication needs to be maintained no matter how difficult the situation gets."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has set a hearing June 20 to discuss Klamath Basin water issues.

In the short-term, the state is considering possibilities for subsidizing cattle feed to keep ranches going, perhaps drawing on federal dollars. Kitzhaber has declared a drought emergency in the area, allowing state agencies to request federal money and aid farmers and ranchers.

But upper basin irrigators said they're not banking on subsidies filling the gap. Feeding and watering 70,000 cattle for four months – rather than relying on irrigated pasture – would cost about $27 million, Hyde said.

Some ranchers are already moving cattle to more plentiful water supplies, though such spots are limited. They could sell cattle, but risk selling at fire-sale prices. Ranchers could ask to graze cattle in the basin's marshy wildlife refuges, but that would set off an environmental battle.

With the dry season underway, weather isn't likely to help out much, either.

"You can't keep praying for rain," said Danette Watson, a consultant to the Upper Klamath Water Users Association. "That's not the solution."

-- Scott Learn

Sort By: 
58 comments so far
The sad part is that no real benefit to anyone arises from inventing "senior tribal water rights" out of the whole cloth and then calling upon them to the detriment of people of have been using the water to produce food. The tribe is not growing anything with the water except government grants and tax-sucking biologists.
View more items
Fish are food too. The tribes have a ancient cultural heritage that relies on fish that are now endangered.
There are several parameters to consider:  
First: The Salmon fish kill that occurred earlier this century had multiple paramaters that accounted for same. A call for a water pulse by the Tribes for a water boat celebration that when it arrived at the estuary the Salmon beieved it was time to move upriver. However, after the ceremony the water was turned back down leaving tens of thousands of Salmon high and dry on low sandbars. Secondly, there is adequate documentation from the Sheriffs Departments of Del Norte and Siskiyou County that the fish kill was enhanced by the dumping of toxic chemicals from an illegal drug operation.  
As to the Salmon population along the Pacific Coast, in 1950 the total landings of Salmon was 149,000 metric tons and in 2010 it was 403,000 metric tons. This represented a 273% increase in Salmon as a result of water storage behind dams and hatcheries.  
There was a time when the resource of water in the United States was as follows: 1. Human use 2. Agricultural Use 3. Industrial applications and somewhere down the list was fish. From the reality numbers of Salmon landed in the Pacific Ocean there is little argument that the Salmon industry is in excellent condition.  
Another point is that the native habitat for Coho Salmon in the Klamath Basin is from the Willamette River in Oregon and the Coho Salmon in the Rogue River are from the Columbia River.
I would add that fish have the right to exist--a right no less intrinsic than the right of human existence. But sadly, salmon populations I doubt will recover anytime soon to their pre-development period population level. Over fishing needs to stop.
James Buchal has a history of demagoguery against Indians. Ignore him.
There is more in that water than just fish. Turns out there's a whole plethora of organisms and in many places they are the foundation of life and entire ecosystems would fail without benthic organisms and the rest of the fauna right up to the charismatic ones. 
Do we care about aquatic ecosystems? Of course food and jobs are important. Nobody is arguing that they aren't. It is just that we now know it isn't worth the sacrifice in some locations. The natural world is finite and necessary. 
Dave Lewis was murdered & burned near Hyatt Lake, after a verbal-altercation with the resort developers on the lake. They were illegally installing cabins, and calling them RVs (to loophole the law). Hearings Officer ruled against the developers. Now- the Bureau of Reclamation, is working to help the developers by a land-swap, turned land-sale, of the 3.6 acres. It's a dirty-rotten back-room deal & Yakima Office & Lorrie Lee Gray of BOR are facilitating this. Mr. Wyden needs to take care of his own, the Native American's need to preserve this lake, and 5 years later -- -arrests need to be made of the killers who have done this. The waters of Hyatt lake, native artifacts, wild life, and preservation needs to happen. 19 of 26 cabins (with hot tubs, dish washers & propane tanks) are going to pull thousands of gallons of water, every week. Preserve & protect Hyatt lake....why isn't anyone listening ?
I have no idea if what you say is true, but I'm not sure it's relevant to the current issue. I know it's tempting to paint all with the same brush, but Hyatt Lake is managed by the Pacific Northwest region of Reclamation, while the Klamath Project is in Reclamation's Mid-Pacific region. Different issues, different actors.
WOW - I am always amazed at the comments left by people who love to live, eat, wipe their bums and use all "sustainable products" that have no clue what it takes to get all of those things. You really have no clue what goes into farming and ranching daily as you happily walk into the air conditioned grocery store and just pick out what you want. Water is the life blood of all around us and what do you think it takes to grow your food or raise that animal you so love to BBQ? This will have more effects on Klamath Falls then just shutting down the Farmers and Ranchers there. Think about the communities as a whole that will lose tax dollars that fund those communities in schools/teachers, colleges, libraries, roads and on and on. Land value without water will drop anywhere from 75-90% in that area but I guess if you have never owned a home or live in a apartment you again do not understand the meaning of our land value with water rights. Ranchers and Farmer love the land, live every day on the land (not just for recreation and entertainment) and I challenge each and everyone of you who have these comments to the fact you have really never spent any time on a farm or ranch, worked or was involved with growing a crop on a farm. Heck have you EVER produced anything you need to eat or drink daily in your life? Even the Green or organic farmers need water to grow their products. We are all in this together if we want to continue to live and eat. My question to you all is - where do you think your food comes from ???? Really when an area may lose up to 100,000 cows impacting roughly 300-400 families that is of no concern? Do you all realize the "FARM BILL" is 80% FOOD STAMPS? where do you think all that $$$$ comes from? Not from the people on the Oregon Trail card..... So tonight while grabbing your dinner, feeding your dog or living your comfortable life think about almost each and everything you touch came from a farmer/rancher!
View more items
OK, let's cool off a bit here. #1. The water rights call was coordinated between the Tribes and several federal agencies in the Klamath Basin. #2. The call was to protect not only the Tribes' water rights, but those of the Klamath Irrigation Project, another 1600 family farms. I repeat, not all farmers are having their water shut off, just those with junior water rights in the upper basin. #3. As I've said here earlier, the upper basin irrigators have known their water rights aren't worth a plugged nickel for about a hundred years, so their outrage is really just theatrics playing to the right wing now that those water rights are finally being enforced under state (not federal) law.
Some farmers are learning to farm sustainably and tremendous research is being done to work to that goal. Based on our rant, you see the land as yours to exploit temporarily for profit. You are not the kind of farmer who I would want as a steward of the land. You say you love the land but rail against sustainability. That doesn't reason out but you are not alone in thinking that way as I have met my share of your type. How many tons of fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides do you go through a year? How much waste runs off your property into aquatic ecosystems? How much low grade diesel do you burn up annually?
This was always a matter of when, not if. Ever since the 1908 Supreme Court rulings in U.S. v. Winans (1905) and Winters v. U.S. (1908), federal constitutional law has recognized that the tribes had certain "reserved" rights, rights they held prior to treaties and that they retained after treating with the U.S. government. Among these in the PNW are the right to fish and hunt in their "usual and accustomed" places, and the right to access to water. Even more poignant in this instance, that constitutional interpretation preceded the allocation of any rights to upstream water users in the Klamath basin due to the 1909 project. This is, in fact, a very western story of prior appropriation. It happens all the time. The only supposedly novel thing about this instance is that it's a tribe invoking its rights. White folk do it all the time.
2001, die off of thousands of salmon, due to diversion to farms, which have only been operating in this basin, under Bureau of Reclamation auspices since the 1930s...pay backs are a b****
1. Actually, farming has been going on in the Klamath Basin since the 1860's. The Reclamation Project was authorized in 1905, not the '30's. 
2. The farmers having their water shut off are not those in the Reclamation Project, they are upstream of Upper Klamath Lake. Their water is being shut off to protect the senior water rights of the Klamath Project and the Klamath Tribes. 
3. The salmon die-off was in 2002, not 2001. Arguable whether it was due to diversion to farms.
View more items
I thought it was in '02, but the above article states that it was in '01.....
2002 is right, as story says:  
The Klamath Basin's water struggles first hit the national spotlight in the drought year of 2001, when farmers using irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake went dry and their plight became a rallying cry against putting fish before people. 
The next year, farmers got more water under Bush administration directives and salmon died en masse near the Klamath River's mouth in Northern California.
Why anyone would try to farm a desert is beyond me. I guess when the subsidies run out, so does the luck...
Ok so it is time for the subsidies to run out on the 80% of the Farm Bill that is FOOD STAMPS and all the other " government/ state aid given to people that can get off their lazy bums and get job. When more people at Walmart are using a Oregon Trail card then people using a thing called hard earned M-O-N-E-Y there is a issue. So I guess its time for their luck to run out.........
Actually, the Klamath Project began as a bunch of private efforts. The farmers requested Reclamation to come in and use federal resources (eventually repaid) to develop the system in ways that they couldn't.
Again, I think you meant pirate instead of private.
Over the last few decades, because of the economy, technology and various other reasons, Americans of all stripes have had to make adjustments in their life plans.. Going back to school to learn new skills, and in many cases relocating with their families to start over.. Its become quite normal.. 
What makes ranchers so special, that they cannot be expected to change with the times, and different situations, like so many other Americans doing what they must to adjust to a different world.
absolutely correct. those native tribes could do exactly that.
View more items
Re: the "Winters Doctrine"...if there is NO court decision overriding or overruling this decision, it currently stands as definitive policy direction.
The Klamath river dams have blocked the historical run of salmon to the upper basin where the Klamath tribes live so they have been adjusting for like almost 100 years....
Well let's see.....farmers and ranchers supply YOUR food dummy! What exactly do you provide for the rest of us? Sheesh. "Change with the times", yes please do change, go back to whatever East Coast or California city you came from and let WE Oregonians handle our problems. 
As for "Native tribes" who are these mysterious folks? What makes them "native"? Here first? Can they prove that? There has and always will be "someone here first" before the last group claiming such. Give the water to those who produce the most for the rest of us. Period.
View more items
So what do you do daily to protect and care for the rivers, streams, ponds, lakes DAILY? Do you even know how much water gets pulled out of places like the Columbia River yearly? What percent do you think? Since it seems like people think the farmers and ranchers are "taking" ALL the Water .....
@Bill_Post_508...I pay to have my garbage hauled to an appropriate landfill, but more importantly I pay to have my urine and excrement professionally treated at a waste water facility. On the other hand, I have seen Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) where hundreds of heads of cattle are fed and finished en masse and there is a lot of waste produced that is spread on fields where it can runoff to streams or seep into the groundwater. But even where CAFOs don't exist, some farm practices can pollute waterways, these are typically refered to as non-point source pollution; see for example:http://iaspub.epa.gov/tmdl_waters10/attains_waterb... I am not anti-farm, I'd like to see more family farms produce crops and livestock for their friends and family. But corporate agriculture is a different story, it's about making big money, sometimes subsidized money, and using resources like the land and water like it's personal property to be used as the corporate owners see fit--that type of mindset encourage the pollution and depletion of natural resources and leads to bad outcomes. That can't last forever--something has to give. 
it's important to note the elected officials who supposedly represent basin farmers are letting economic hardship fall on the people they represent. Where is Us Rep Walden? And county commissioner Mallams? They have offered no solution and yet they don't support solutions that the water users themselves created. The most important flyway on the Pacific coast has no water guarantee under status quo. Status quo isn't working.
Any junior water rights users forced off their ranches can write a big thank you letter to the Siskiyou county board of supervisors for their obstructionism. This is why an agreement was needed, but some extremist ideologues think they can hold their breath and make the problem go away.
How exactly are they being forced off their ranches? 
Junior water right holders wouldn't get water in a drought year regardless of the politics.
The irrigated Klamath basin is for cattle what the International Space Station is for people: a wholly artificial construct built and maintained entirely by people. Sometimes the whimsy wears thin, budget realities appear, and the house of cards becomes too expensive to bother with any more. Time for another migration of the sons of the pioneers.
Some endangered species used to occupy where your yuppy condo is now, better move back east.
Those of us in rural Oregon, who support this policy, are calling BS on your rationale
Nice try. CLack, 
Everyone on this board isn't drinking a Chai latte in the Pearl District and even if they are, their opinions still are just as valid as yours.
This is how water rights works in the US West--prior appropriation--first in time, first in right. Tribes were certainly first in time; thus they are senior. If I were a farmer or rancher with a junior right, I would certainly not expect to have water during times when there are no rains, much less a during a drought. What is problematic here, to me, is that certain "reclamation" projects should have never been built in areas like this. The government started reclamation and I think they meant well but now it's time to end reclamation by buying out the farmers and ranchers. The Klamath is not well suited for farming or ranching without a continuing and perpetual subsidy of water, energy, and money. One time buyout by the federal govt and that would be more than fair.
Actually, the Klamath Project began as a bunch of private efforts. The farmers requested Reclamation to come in and use federal resources (eventually repaid) to develop the system in ways that they couldn't.
Did you mean private or pirate? 
I agree, but in this case, nothing happening in the Trinity has any effect on what happens in the upper Klamath.
And yet, Southern and Central California get water from the Trinity (a tributary of the Klamath) to the detriment of fish.
Yes, the Trinity water users are important corporate agribiz interests in the Central Valley--some Hollywood people might have ownership interests there! The Klamath Falls farmers are nobodies, Obama won't be listening.
If Oregonians had managed their natural lands and resources like California, the Klamath marsh would be farmland already.  
Bush listened (using your logic) and the fish died. Maybe an acceptable sacrifice in your mind.
Cheney "listened" (2001), and looked what happened....
I'm sure this will all work out, I mean, what could go wrong? Sure the farmers won't get any water and will be wiped out financially, but the uptick in fish will more than offset the "overall macroeconomics" with more fish for the tribes, more guiding for fishing, if there are any left after the tribes take their allocation...time will tell.  
Of course the farmers will still be wiped out, but this is a give and take kind of thing...
This isn't just farmers vs. fish. Also standing to benefit from the call are the 1,600 family farms on the Klamath Irrigation Project who hold the 1905 (2nd in line after the tribes) water right. Their farms will be protected.  
The upper basin farmers have known since 1909 that their water right is junior to the Klamath Project, quite aside from any right the Tribes might obtain through adjudication. Why ANY of them have chosen not to promote the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and its stakeholder-negotiated solutions is beyond me.
Good points there "mjn". I didn't know about this, should, but I didn't. Probably a few more don't either, thanks for the information. 
These are important points that needs to be addressed. God forbid it wasn't reported and if so, it should be repeated along with the ongoing dialogue.  
Best regards.
From 1778 to 1871, the United States’ relations with individual American Indian nations indigenous to what is now the U.S. were defined and conducted largely through the treaty-making process. These “contracts among nations” recognized and established unique sets of rights, benefits, and conditions for the treaty-making tribes who agreed to cede of millions of acres of their homelands to the United States and accept its protection. Like other treaty obligations of the United States, Indian treaties are considered to be “the supreme law of the land,” and they are the foundation upon which federal Indian law and the federal Indian trust relationship is based. In short, the term reservation, refers specifically to a "reservation in rights" that tribes gave to the US and reserved for themselves. Thus, that "give and take" you refer to, and I hope that was not a sardonic barb, is that for most of North America, tribes reserved rights among other things for senior rights in a litany of natural and cultural resources, as well as approximately 56 million acres of reservation land.



In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

Home Contact


              Page Updated: Thursday June 13, 2013 02:32 AM  Pacific

             Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2001 - 2013, All Rights Reserved