The Klamath River flows 253 miles
from Southern Oregon to the California coast, draining a basin of
more than 15,000 square miles. The watershed and its fisheries
have been the subject of negotiation since the 1860s negotiations
that have intensified and continue to this day.
The river has provided irrigation to ag lands since the late 19th
century. Agricultural development drained vast areas of
wetlands on the periphery of Upper Klamath Lake and in
upstream watersheds. Some of this drained acreage has been
restored and is now managed primarily for wetland benefits.
The watershed is divided geographically into two basins, upper
and lower, divided by Iron Gate Dam, the lower most dam on the
river. The Upper Basin is dry, with annual precipitation of about
13 inches at the river’s origin near Klamath Falls, Ore.
Downstream, the climate grows wetter.
Native Americans have a significant presence in the Klamath
Basin. Four major tribes have been influential in water
negotiations: the Klamath Tribes, the Karuk Tribe, the Hoopa
Valley Tribe and the Yurok Tribe.
For thousands of years, the Yurok have gathered along the
Klamath River in northern California to honor the
life-affirming runs of wild salmon. But these days their annual
festivals have come to feel more like funerals than
celebrations. There are so few salmon in these waters that the
Yurok Tribe has had to resort to importing them from Alaska.
… The reasons for the decimation of the salmon runs are
many, climate change among them. But the biggest culprit,
actually the four biggest culprits, are the decrepit
hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.
The current drought in the West has likely had no greater
impact on other agricultural entities than on alfalfa,
according to Dan Putnam, the longtime extension forage
agronomist with the University of California in Davis. …
Regulatory curtailments of water supplies are also a major
concern. Putnam tends to take the path of evaluating the water
challenges and then looking for alfalfa opportunities. Said
another way, he’s a glass half-full individual. In 2021, about
50% of the alfalfa in the West was impacted by drought.
Irrigated alfalfa comprises almost 50% of U.S. alfalfa
production, and it’s often the highest water user in many of
the Western states.
Drought is no stranger to the Klamath Basin. But twenty years
ago, following a century and a half of control by settlers, it
began tearing at the fabric of the watershed. Farmers saw their
water supply cut off for the first time since the Klamath
Project’s inception. Young fish perished up and down the
watershed. Migrating birds’ ancestral rest stops reduced to mud
puddles. Indigenous people saw themselves vilified for seeking
the protection of natural and cultural resources promised to
them by treaties.
[A] new cause of conflict threatens [water
systems] already straining to respond to the region’s
worst drought cycle in 1,200 years. Instead of adjusting water
consumption to the reality of a changing climate, officials are
having to respond to the fallout of false claims that cuts in
water use are part of an elaborate government plan to starve
and depopulate the earth. Some of the talk of a violent
standoff last summer in Oregon’s Klamath River Basin was laced
with the language of this anti-government conspiracy theory.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating a major
restoration project on the shore of Upper Klamath Lake that
could benefit species both above and below the water’s surface.
If carried out, it would be the largest wetland restoration
effort ever attempted for Upper Klamath Lake …
[and] would reconnect and restore more than 14,000 acres
of historic fringe wetlands back to the lake.
The Yurok Tribe recently received a little over a half million
dollars to increase salmonid habitats in two local creeks that
feed into the Klamath River. Hunter and McGarvey Creeks are
important rearing and staging habitats for salmonids, but
historic logging, road building and loss of naturally forming
wood jams have impacted both streams. As a result, Chinook,
Coho, Steelhead, Coastal Cutthroat Trout and other species have
The Oregon legislature passed $100-million in drought relief
funding for the state. Of that, around $20 million is headed to
Klamath County for ongoing drought relief and wildfires.
There’s a sigh of relief for many in the Klamath Basin coming.
The Klamath Water Users Association says the funding will
benefit thousands in Klamath County. Desperately needed funding
is headed to Klamath County for drought assistance, from the
California is chock full of rivers and creeks, yet the state’s network of stream gauges has significant gaps that limit real-time tracking of how much water is flowing downstream, information that is vital for flood protection, forecasting water supplies and knowing what the future might bring.
That network of stream gauges got a big boost Sept. 30 with the signing of SB 19. Authored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the law requires the state to develop a stream gauge deployment plan, focusing on reactivating existing gauges that have been offline for lack of funding and other reasons. Nearly half of California’s stream gauges are dormant.
In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling extended the public trust doctrine to tributary creeks that feed Mono Lake, which is a navigable water body even though the creeks themselves were not. The ruling marked a dramatic shift in water law and forced Los Angeles to cut back its take of water from those creeks in the Eastern Sierra to preserve the lake.
Now, a state appellate court has for the first time extended that same public trust doctrine to groundwater that feeds a navigable river, in this case the Scott River flowing through a picturesque valley of farms and alfalfa in Siskiyou County in the northern reaches of California.
Headwaters are the source of a
stream or river. They are located at the furthest point from
where the water body empties or merges with
another. Two-thirds of California’s surface water supply
originates in these mountainous and typically forested regions.
Mired in drought, expectations are high that new storage funded
by Prop. 1 will be constructed to help California weather the
adverse conditions and keep water flowing to homes and farms.
At the same time, there are some dams in the state eyed for
removal because they are obsolete – choked by accumulated
sediment, seismically vulnerable and out of compliance with
federal regulations that require environmental balance.
20-minute version of the 2012 documentary The Klamath Basin: A
Restoration for the Ages. This DVD is ideal for showing at
community forums and speaking engagements to help the public
understand the complex issues related to complex water management
disputes in the Klamath River Basin. Narrated by actress Frances
For over a century, the Klamath River Basin along the Oregon and
California border has faced complex water management disputes. As
relayed in this 2012, 60-minute public television documentary
narrated by actress Frances Fisher, the water interests range
from the Tribes near the river, to energy producer PacifiCorp,
farmers, municipalities, commercial fishermen, environmentalists
– all bearing legitimate arguments for how to manage the water.
After years of fighting, a groundbreaking compromise may soon
settle the battles with two epic agreements that hold the promise
of peace and fish for the watershed. View an excerpt from the
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership
with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an
excellent overview of climate change and how it is already
affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists
anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and
precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are
underway to plan and adapt to climate.
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays
the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas
and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The
map text explains the many issues facing this vast,
15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration;
agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are
descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement,
and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development
of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect
gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the
definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the
state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s
natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts
– including federally, state and locally funded
projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and
natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of
California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects,
wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the
text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water
projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado
The Pacific Flyway is one of four
major North American migration routes for birds, especially
waterfowl, and extends from Alaska and Canada, through
California, to Mexico and South America. Each year, birds follow
ancestral patterns as they travel the flyway on their annual
north-south migration. Along the way, they need stopover sites
such as wetlands with suitable habitat and food supplies. In
California, 90 percent of historic wetlands have been lost.
On the Klamath River, the Upper Klamath Basin’s aquatic
ecosystems are naturally very productive due to its
However, this high productivity makes the Basin’s lakes
vulnerable to water quality problems.
Nutrient loads in the Upper Klamath Basin are a primary driver of
water quality problems along the length of the Klamath River,
including algal blooms in the Klamath Hydroelectric Project
reservoirs. Municipal and industrial discharges of wastewater in
the Klamath Falls area add to the nutrient load.
This issue of Western Water examines the challenges facing state,
federal and tribal officials and other stakeholders as they work
to manage terminal lakes. It includes background information on
the formation of these lakes, and overviews of the water quality,
habitat and political issues surrounding these distinctive bodies
of water. Much of the information in this article originated at
the September 2004 StateManagement Issues at Terminal Water
Bodies/Closed Basins conference.
The story of the Klamath River is the story of two basins.
In the upper basin, farming has long been the way of life. Even
before passage of the 1902 Reclamation Act, settlers had begun
the arduous process of reclaiming vast tracts of wetlands and
transforming them into rich farmland.