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The Klamath water wars—a possible treaty?

In the aftermath of more than a decade characterized by disaster and conflict, stakeholders from the Klamath Basin have proposed an agreement for water allocation and natural resource restoration. As with any possible solution to a heated conflict, the Klamath Agreements do not have unanimous backing—but they do forge new alliances between historically combative stakeholders.

Major river basins of Oregon. Map by Ecotrust cartographer Analisa Fenix

“This is an agreement that covers a huge stretch of the basin, but the work is not done. This is a first step,” said James Honey, a program director for Sustainable Northwest at last week’s Solutions Seminar.

The Klamath Basin is the third largest salmon run on the West Coast, hosts 75 percent of all birds that fly along the Pacific corridor, provides livelihoods for commercial fisherman and family farmers, and holds a rich cultural history for native tribes that have inhabited the region for thousands of years.

Water shortages over the past decade have had devastating effects on everyone and everything in the basin, from people needing to water their crops to
those looking to protect native fish species from extinction.

The seminar hosted a panel of various stakeholders from the Klamath Basin: a rancher, a fisherman, a tribal councilman, and a conservation activist. All spoke from personal experience living and working in the basin.

“In my lifetime I’ve seen our resources dwindle,” said Don Gentry, vice chairman of the Klamath Tribal Council. “Our reason for entering into this agreement is to restore these resources.”

While none of the panelists suggested that the agreements were an end-all solution, they did view the agreements as a promising alternative to deadlocked litigation.

“This is worlds better than the status quo,” said Erica Terrence, director of the nonprofit conservation organization Klamath Riverkeeper. “We know the status quo, we know everybody suffers.”