Wednesday, November 23, 2016

In the Klamath River Basin, Water Rights Are Personal

You’d think a bird would have an easy time finding a watery rest stop along the over 260-mile-long Klamath River. That should be especially true in the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, a huge marshland along the Pacific Flyway. But in 2012 a dry year cut water supplies, which then chopped available wetlands in half and accelerated the spread of avian cholera. Up to 20,000 birds died off, including snow geese, ducks and coots. Water rights along the Klamath River have always been a matter of survival, and birds aren’t the only ones competing for water — they’re just the last in line. The federal government manages a complex hierarchy of rights along the river, claimed by irrigators, tribes and fish in the two states it runs through: California and Oregon. And shortages are becoming more common. “The challenges we have here are because we’ve promised too much water to too many people,” says Trout Unlimited’s Chrysten Lambert. “We’ve promised more water than there is here.” While the November election has brought stories of uncertainty and division, in the Klamath Basin a sprawling and unlikely group of allies has been working across political lines for years to establish a sustainable sense of the river. Six years ago, they hashed out a huge compromise deal, to take out dams, sort out rights and allocate water. Without congressional support, that agreement died. But earlier this year, the dams’ owner, PacifiCorp, applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to abandon its interests, a move that doesn’t require congressional approval. With dam removal now in process, sharing water remains a separate negotiation. Several parties to the original deal confirm talks about water rights and water allocation have begun...more

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