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Klamath Basin stakeholders are challenged by drought

Posted by Renee Magyar on June 17, 2013

Stakeholders are doing their best to navigate increasing challenges with water sharing.

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The Klamath Basin is back in the headlines this week after a historic and inevitable event in the drought-stricken region. The Klamath Tribes and the federal government exercised their right to restrict the amount of water some area irrigators would take from sources that feed the Upper Klamath Lake. By 'calling' the water, the tribes intend to protect fragile fisheries, and the government to reserve enough water for a federal irrigation project and adjacent wildlife refuge.

There is competition for the limited water supplies between ranchers, farmers, tribes, and commercial fisheries downstream, and in times of drought and uncertainty of livelihood, the tension is heightened.

To find an alternative to having the water taps flow only into one bucket or another, representatives from each of these groups, along with conservation groups and PacifiCorp, the owner of 4 dams along the Klamath River, came together as a coalition and drafted a comprehensive set of water and power sharing agreements - the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreements (KBRA) - that would make a call on the water unnecessary. These agreements have stalled in Congress over concern for funding and opposition to dam removal - one of the components of the agreements. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing on June 20 to receive testimony about water resources issues in the Basin. Members of the Klamath coalition have been invited to share their point of view at the June 20 hearing.

Despite an uncertain future, the signatories to the KBRA are still working together and looking toward a time when water sharing is possible, conflict is a thing of the past, and sustainable and equitable use of the region's resources can support living wage jobs and a healthy ecosystem for all residents.

In the meantime, we encourge Congress to consider creating legislation that would enact the solutions presented in the KBRA, and we welcome conversations with all parties involved.