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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Klamath River Basin: Background and Issues

Charles V. Stern, Coordinator
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Pervaze A. Sheikh
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Cynthia Brougher
Legislative Attorney

Bill Heniff Jr.
Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process

The Klamath River Basin on the California-Oregon border is a focal point for local and national discussions on water allocation and species protection. Previously, water and species management issues have exacerbated competition and generated conflict among several interests—farmers, Indian tribes, commercial and sport fishermen, federal wildlife refuge managers, environmental groups, and state, local, and tribal governments. As is true in many regions in the West, the federal government plays a prominent role in the Klamath Basin’s waters. This role stems primarily from (1) operation and management of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Water Project; (2) management of federal lands, including six national wildlife refuges; and (3) implementation of federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act.

Allocation of the Klamath Basin’s water has been contentious in the past. Controversy peaked in 2001 when the federal government halted irrigation water deliveries to protect species listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Later issues with basin fisheries exacerbated these conflicts. Efforts to permanently settle many of the basin’s water and species issues began during the Bush Administration and were continued by the Obama Administration.

In 2010, the Secretary of the Interior and the governors of Oregon and California, along with multiple interest groups, announced two interrelated settlement agreements, supported by the federal government and signed by numerous other parties. These agreements are meant to address many of the previous conflicts in the basin. The first agreement, known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), provides for restoration, water deliveries, and related actions, including a defined range of water supplies for Reclamation project users as well as projects to restore and protect threatened and endangered fish species. The second agreement, known as the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), lays out a process for studies and a decision by the Secretary of the Interior regarding whether the removal of four dams in the Lower Klamath Basin (funded by power customers in Oregon and California, as well as the State of California) would be in the public interest. Together, removal of the dams would constitute one of the largest, most complex dam removal projects ever undertaken.

More than forty groups are signatories (or “parties”) to the Klamath agreements, including the states of Oregon and California, three area tribes, Reclamation Project irrigators, environmental interests, and others. In addition to these parties, many who were not formally involved in negotiations also support the agreements. Opponents of the agreements include a subset of non- Reclamation project (“off-project”) irrigators, as well as some other environmental groups, tribes, Siskiyou County in California, and other area residents. The Obama Administration has endorsed the Klamath agreements, but Congress has to formally authorize both agreements for the federal government to move forward with most of their actions.

Legislation currently before Congress (H.R. 3398 and S. 1851) would authorize the agreements, including approximately $800 million for federal actions (mostly in the KBRA). Considerations related to the Klamath agreements may include whether the federal government is obligated to act beyond current activities in the Klamath Basin (and, if so, to what extent) and what specific strategies should be authorized.

Date of Report: June 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: R42157
Price: $29.95

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