Settling a century of conflict in the upper Klamath basin

Posted by Hannah Meganck on April 28, 2014

A historic water-sharing settlement was reached between the Klamath Tribes and upper basin ranching community.

Federal, Oregon, and California delegations signing the final settlement. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Interior

History was made last week on the banks of Spring Creek in the Upper Klamath Basin in the heart of the Klamath Tribes ancestral land. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, the Klamath Tribes, and upper basin ranchers gathered to sign a final settlement designed to end over a century of fighting over short water in the basin's headwaters.

A draft was released in December and the tribal and ranching communities approved the final in March. The final settlement details a first-of-its-kind water-sharing and river restoration program for the Wood, Williamson, and Sprague River watersheds that feed Upper Klamath Lake and the main stem Klamath River downstream. The settlement establishes a process whereby voluntary landowner actions that collectively achieve specified in-stream flow and riparian management targets that protect fish can avert water calls by the tribes and enable ranchers to keep irrigating. An excellent story on the run-up the settlement is provided is in this new article published by the Earth Island Journal.

Secretary Jewell remarked that "We're here today because many people had the courage and the vision to set aside differences and work together to change the status quo." She added referring to the final settlement and the Klamath Basin Restoration and Hydroelectric Agreements signed in 2010, "With the three Klamath agreements in place, we have the tools needed to restore the basin, advance the recovery of its fisheries, uphold trust responsibilities to the Tribes, and sustain our ranching heritage from the headwaters of the Klamath to the ocean."

U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell at final settlement signing ceremony
U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell at final settlement signing ceremony

Efforts are already underway to implement the settlement, and landowner interest in participating in the settlement has been strong. Further, we expect Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to meet his promise to introduce federal legislation this spring to authorize a few key parts of the three Klamath agreements that require federal approval.

Becky Hyde, a lead negotiator for the upper basin ranchers and a former Sustainable Northwest Board member, perfectly summed up the spirit of the final settlement in this excerpt from the Klamath Falls Herald & News, "You have chosen to share with your neighbors after enduring decades of hardship," she said, referring to the hard times the tribes knew after the federal government dissolved their reservation in the 1950s. "We are blessed to live in a community with your people."

Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes and Becky Hyde, upper basin rancher
Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes and Becky Hyde, upper basin rancher

Sustainable Northwest has been, and will continue to be at the forefront of activities to ensure these historic pacts are fully authorized and implemented on-the-ground in the coming years. We offer our deepest appreciation to our partners and friends who worked countless hours to craft the final settlement and set a crowning example of compromise for other water-starved communities across the West.