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
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.
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